The marriage of the media operations of J. Walter Thompson and
Ogilvy and Mather seems to have reached the pre-nuptial stage with the
announcement of joint TV negotiations in the US.
It would appear to be a shotgun wedding against the will of both media
departments, which believe in the strategic role of media and its place
at the heart of advertising communications, both spiritually and
The fact is that, whatever they think, clients continue to be attracted
by the proposition of an independent media service with its offerings of
specialism, size and savings. In three years’ time the media department
will be dead.
This prospect raises serious issues for agency chiefs because the
removal of the media process leaves a far bigger hole than might at
first have been imagined. The lack of a media function undermines
creative, commercial and client service performance.
The creative dilemma was eloquently expressed in this column by Chris
O’Shea (Campaign, 11 October 1996). His agency’s response has been to
recreate a full-service media department in the traditional mould - and
good luck to it. But it’s not only creatives who miss media input. No
meaningful consumer research or communications planning can be done in a
An understanding of the media landscape, the roles that individual media
play in people’s lives and the context they place on advertising within
them, is critical to the strategic development process. Without it, the
agency product is ultimately not worth as much to clients.
The separation of media inevitably undermines client relationships as
’turf wars’ break out between agency and media teams which compete
initially for recognition and status and, eventually, for projects and
The media process can’t be an entirely self-contained function and any
change to a media plan has implications in other areas. Client
relationships can become severely strained when these details are
overlooked because of the dislocation of media.
The response of recreating the old-style media department is an
expensive, high-risk option. Major investment in people, systems and
research is only the price of entry.
To compete effectively requires having the very best of all these and a
track record of excellence. To be a major force in 2000 will necessitate
scale, experience and expertise. The chances of any new agency media
department achieving this from scratch are, at best, slim.
The solution lies not in reviving the existing model but in inventing a
totally new media discipline which will focus on four key tasks. First,
to provide a media context for creative development that is available
from the very start of the process. Creative-friendly media people have
always been a relatively rare breed but those who can cross the divide
will prove invaluable in this new role.
Second, one must ensure a media dimension to consumer research so that
it better reflects people’s response to marketing communications and the
part media plays. Third, provide a professional and consistent point of
contact for the media specialists to ensure regular and relevant
And finally, to represent the agency within the media community. Media
owners, as architects of the changing media landscape, hold the key to
This new discipline will allow agencies to retain the advertising skills
of their media departments and still capitalise on the media nous of
The media department is dead. Long live the media department.