Opinion: Perspective - BBH shows its class with commitment to media

It's a testament to Bartle Bogle Hegarty's usual creative brilliance that when it releases a real stinker of an ad, your first reaction is to question - even briefly - your own creative judgment.

But there have been quite a few BBH stinkers this year and the mighty agency seems to have lost something of its market-leading touch. So it's good to see BBH setting the industry agenda again - this time in creative media thinking. The launch of a new in-house engagement planning department, which will stand as equal to any of the agency's other disciplines, puts BBH at the forefront of integrated media thinking.

Of course, BBH has been here before. Its old in-house media department was always widely considered to be one of the best and most-creative in town, and there's no doubt that the agency's creative work was enhanced by this input.

Still, it has been a while since media was really part of the BBH DNA, and in the meantime an in-house media bandwagon has started rolling. So many creative agencies either have their own in-house media thinker, have a joint venture (almost inevitably with Naked) or gush that it's top of their agenda to sort out.

But doubts linger (as least for cynics like me) about how much influence some of these new in-house media planning and strategy units really have, particularly when so many of them consist of one or two people and many of them are hardly best in class.

In Kevin Brown, BBH is reuniting with a media man who is indisputably one of those best in class. And Brown knows the BBH culture and people.

Crucially, too, Brown will join the agency's senior management team. He will run an entire flank of media thinkers, a department as crucial to delivering on the BBH proposition as creative, planning or account handling.

And rather than just simply being about media strategy - which so often translates as a bit of stunt media on the fringes - this is about a core understanding of how consumers interact with content, how to really connect with them through different communications channels.

Bringing this understanding to bear on the rest of the advertising process is the key. And to label the launch of this engagement planning function as the fourth discipline is genius, enshrining it immediately - crucially - at the heart of the agency.

With BBH in the thick of a couple of key pitches right now (British Airways and the global Omo pitch), the whole engagement planning notion is no doubt a significant card to play; Unilever, certainly, has put real emphasis on understanding how consumers engage with content in the Omo brief.

So this is true agenda-setting, money-on-the-table stuff if BBH lives up to its promise. While so many agencies have paid lip-service to the notion of integrated media thinking, none have had the conviction and commitment at this level. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the market - both media and creative agencies, but particularly clients - respond.

What BBH has also managed to do over the years is prove the validity of the micro-network: you need to look no further than the agency's inclusion on the Omo shortlist - one of the biggest global brand pitches - for evidence.

Lowe - another Omo contender - has also toyed with the idea, though now the rumour is that a greater alliance with its sister below-the-line agency Draft is more likely.

Anyway, it is interesting that Andy Berlin should now be looking at a micro-network to recapture the essence of what Red Cell was always supposed to be about, before WPP ruined it all by buying Bates and dumping a lot of crap into the network.

An elite micro-network with the highest possible creative credentials has been an obvious gap on the shelves of the WPP shop for too long. And it unshackles some of the best agencies in the Red Cell family to finally live up to their domestic reputations on the international stage.