Opinion: Perspective - Creative and media fight for strategic high-ground

It's fitting that in the week Maxwell Dane, the last remaining founder of Dane Doyle Bernbach, passes away, DDB London should be awash with plans to resurrect its fine heritage.

The London agency has certainly lost its impetus over recent years; a fresh focus on planning (page 18) is long overdue, and the creative product now needs some attention. It's steady slide down the agency rankings has been both sad and embarrassing to track and its new chief executive, Paul Hammersley, has much work to do.

Tucked away almost as a footnote in Hammersley's masterplan is an interesting addition to the DDB armoury: the attempt to reclaim some media planning credentials. What's so often forgotten in any assessment of DDB's (or rather BMP's) glory years is the fantastic roll-call of brilliant media thinkers the agency nurtured.

Derek Morris, Ivan Pollard, Andy Tilley, Jon Wilkins, Nigel Sharrocks, Tim Cox, Kevin Brown, together with perhaps the best media buying operation of the 80s and early 90s, were integral to the magic BMP formula over the years. When the in-house media department became independent (as was absolutely required), some of that magic was lost.

It's no surprise, then, that DDB should now be scrambling aboard the media bandwagon, following the likes of TBWA, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Clemmow Hornby Inge and, it emerged this week, Fallon.

The rationale for creative agencies revisiting the strategic media territory is becoming well rehearsed: since the breakaway of media departments, media has become more complex and more lucrative. With media fragmentation the opportunities and challenges of niche targeting have raised the planning and buying stakes and have allowed media agencies to move their offering beyond a price-driven commodity.

The rise of strategic media thinking has helped push media up the communications hierarchy, claim a seat at the client boardroom table and craft a greater role as business partner rather than just commodity supplier.

Of course, with this has come a palpable and unpalatable threat to creative agencies, to their client relationships, planning credentials and bottom line. No surprises that the penny is dropping and there's a growing recognition that not only does creativity work harder if aligned to media thinking but there's also an opportunity to add incremental revenues.

I'm not convinced that DDB has the will or the resource to really ingrain media thinking and the danger is that, as with the other creative agencies, it remains tokenistic rather than fundamental.

Certainly, other agencies that are seeking to install strategic media credentials have as yet made little noticeable impression, but with Fallon close to signing a deal with the strategic media specialist Naked and WCRS on the hunt for a similar tie-up, the slow, cynical trickle is fast becoming a rolling tide.

What of media agencies, though? There's no doubt that this is a trend that could carry some weighty implications.

Strategic insight and clever thinking have become a USP for the best media agencies and have reinvented the sector away from being simply about lowest prices.

If agencies such as DDB aspire to match the upstream media bit, then media agencies are in danger of losing their high-ground and their chances of getting paid a decent wage for the service they offer; a return to the days of commodity media seems all too possible.

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