MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Uncool M&B shows it still knows how to pull a few surprises

Thankfully, media is not a fashionable business. If it were, we might have couture media executives, but would we have outfits such as Mediahead, Brand Connection or John Ayling & Associates? Even the likes of MediaCom would never have been granted survival. Thankfully, though, we have some pretty shabby chief executives running our industry and the glossy and the matt agencies co-exist to offer something to suit all client tastes.

And if media awards were doled out on the basis of who wears fashion's crown ... well, the Naked shelves would be groaning louder than a fireman.

The fact that its shelves are groaning under the weight of its accolades has, of course, less to do with the company's of-the-moment-ness and more to do with the high-profile clever sparks that it is forging down in EC1 right now. What is undoubtedly true is that Michaelides & Bednash is no longer where it's at. Now eight years old, the original strategic media company has been doing its thing for so long now that it's as old hat as a vintage Ascot.

The trouble with M&B is that it was the first. The first agency to claim that it was different - to challenge the conventional approach to media planning ("anyone got a duster for last year's schedule?") - it was viewed with enormous suspicion. And it became a bete noire for the few media agencies that did know a bit about creative media thinking but couldn't package it quite so neatly.

So cynicism reigned, and quite rightly. M&B's real difference was always a structural one, a freedom from the buying binds that tied down rivals.

M&B didn't discover creative media thinking, it just proved that it could be released and could fly alone. But its initial glittering successes were followed by the loss of some of the real prizes that had first got rivals sweating. And recent wins have been at the more modest end of the client spectrum and on interesting assignments that blend creative leadership with broader communications thinking. So, an interesting agency, but perhaps not the re-writer of media that was first feared?

Yet M&B's triumph at this year's Campaign Media Awards, scooping the gold for its work on Channel 4's Indian Summer cricket coverage, is a reminder that the agency has still got what it takes to surprise and innovate.

Critics will say Channel 4 is the perfect client as a platform for creative ideas, or that Channel 4 deserves the accolade as much as M&B. But there's no doubt that the award is richly deserved, and M&B is still successfully ploughing a furrow many had dismissed as a dead end. M&B was never really allowed to be as fashionable as Naked is allowed to be now that the rest of the industry has more confidence in its own creative credentials.

But M&B played a major part in making those creative credentials an industry-wide prerequisite.


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