Opinion: Perspective - Is Hurrell and Dawson the future of full service?

It's no surprise that creative agencies are trying to get some media mojo back. Over the past few years, the decision to bring strategic media thinking back alongside the creative process has gone from being a smart new-business ploy to a real business imperative.

Media thinking is a crucial part of the creative process in our complex digital world. And yes, creative agencies have also figured out that it's a way for them to extract new revenue from clients. But media agencies, which generally operate on healthier margins than their creative counterparts, will tell you that the real money to be made is still mostly in the buying function.

So is it time for the rebirth of the full-service agency? (Nick) Hurrell and (Neil) Dawson reckon so. And that's full service with all the hard-nosed implementational planning and buying, not just the fluffy stuff.

Could Hurrell and Dawson ever hope to compete on price against a global media network of the magnitude of, say, a Group M. Not a hope, at least on the big, multinational clients. Can they afford to invest in the sort of research systems, data capabilities and depth of talent that the big media shops boast about? Unlikely for quite some time.

So are they mad? Definitely not. There is a swell of clients desperate for a more integrated approach to advertising (well: advertising, public relations, direct marketing, digital, media and every other which way their brand is communicated) and they're looking for a simpler agency structure to drive through ideas across all communications channels.

Consider, too, that the advertising agency market is over-supplied by a raft of indistinguishable agencies. And then add in the (slow) emergence of a next generation of procurement executives with a fresh definition of "value".

What's more, the media model based on promising ever bigger discounts to clients has pretty much reached the end of the road. Media owners are saying that all the last discounts have been squeezed out of the market and that cost-effective media buying is now a simple hygiene; the clever media agencies are the ones that look for new kinds of deals that work more closely with broadcasters' inventory to create new, richer media deals for their clients that go well beyond simple spot and space buying. There's no reason a nifty in-house media department can't do this just as well as the big media clubs.

But, as is always the case, the success of Hurrell and Dawson's full-service ambitions will rest with the person (or people) they pull in to make this part of their proposition fly. If they go big name, big respect, that will make an enormous difference with clients and with media owners.

Of course, it's unlikely any client is going to hand this agency a £20 million media account on the strength of one big media hiring. But a bold client might just decide that Hurrell and Dawson can provide the big creative idea and see it through to its media conclusion more effectively and efficiently if the entire process is handled under one roof by a senior, seasoned team that operate as, well, a team.

And in the current market, I also think that's one hell of a USP that really might draw the attention of more clients than a Hurrell and Dawson creative-only shop can (right now there are plenty of equal/better places to go with your creative account).

Mind you, Hurrell and Dawson don't see it as a USP, they see it as the future: all smart agencies will go this way. And they don't see it as a solution just for small clients who might feel they are simply fuelling the media discounts of bigger clients if they go with a media buying giant. They see it as a solution for those clients whose definition of value is not "cheap" but, rather, is based around getting the right ideas (creative and media) in the most appropriate media. And who's going to argue with that?

claire.beale@haymarket.com.

Topics