OPINION: How to have your cake and eat it in media’s new world - Three more years and the media department will be dead, Rhona Tridgell says. But its rebirth as a wholly new discipline holds the key to the future for ad agencies

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.

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

media vacuum.

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

the future.

This new discipline will allow agencies to retain the advertising skills

of their media departments and still capitalise on the media nous of

their specialist.

The media department is dead. Long live the media department.

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