OPINION: Internal co-operation is the secret weapon of agencies

Agencies need to recognise the fact that by integrating planning they can achieve more effective working strategies than with the series model, John Grant claims

Agencies need to recognise the fact that by integrating planning they

can achieve more effective working strategies than with the series

model, John Grant claims

A Campaign leader (27 October) highlighted the external reason for

merging account and media planning. The argument goes that, because

consumers are becoming harder to reach, the process of reaching them -

media planning - should take precedence.

This entails carrying out media planning earlier, but not necessarily

merging the two processes.

But there is an additional internal reason for merging them. It concerns

the way advertising and other forms of communication are developed.

The typical agency process arranges different departments in series. The

analogy most often used is the relay race.

The problem with processes that work in series is they are lengthy and

cumbersome, vulnerable to ‘weak links’ and inadequate at dealing with

complex problems, which explains why factories no longer use a Fordist

division of labour.

Furthermore, the series model can mean that strategies are developed too

early and media planning done too late.

If divorced from the creative process, planning will be carried too

early. Weeks, or even months, can be wasted analysing and reducing a

client’s problem to a logically unassailable, but creatively unworkable,


Media planning will have been done too late if the only decision left to

make is one of placement - Coronation Street or Cheers, for example?

Early media decisions can lead to more relevant and effective forms of

persuasion, such as Radio 1’s cinema docummercials.

But, by doing media planning upfront, agencies can also miss the point.

If it is separated from strategic and creative considerations, it is

likely to lead communications astray.

Campaigns need to be based on more than the opportunity to project a

laser beam on to the House of Commons, for example. The problem is the

relay team, not the order of the runners.

The development of computing in recent years highlights this. Computing

used to be based upon a sequence of instructions to solve a problem in

steps. Computers, like some agencies, had to go round in loops to find a


Scientists resolved this by inventing parallel processing using neural

networks. The combination and recombination of cells in a neural network

enabled computers to move quickly, and organically, towards a solution.

The same is true of agencies when they are arranged in parallel networks

rather than series. Media and strategic planning work better when they

are closely linked. They can check hypotheses and take both viewpoints

into account when working towards a solution. One way to ensure

interaction is to allow one ‘planner’ to wear both hats.

But even this doesn’t go far enough. It is still a relay race, with two

runners doing the first leg together. Planning and media planning

executives need to co-operate closely with the creative team before, and

after, the brief is written. The best agency process is more like the

game Twister than a relay race.

‘Twister’ is often the team system used by agencies when pitching for an

account. (The new challenge, time pressures and external competitors can

achieve more fluid co-operation.) I would not advocate the Japanese

system of pitching for every project, but it is tragic that agencies

often only pull together when they face difficult conditions.

But where does this leave media independents? Either they have to work

so closely with creative agencies that the join is invisible (this can,

and does, happen, although we have seen recently how this bond of trust

can break down) or, as has started to happen, media independents can

become full-service shops.


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