Opinion: Perspective - The mega media pitch could be bad for business

It's August, so we probably shouldn't be surprised to see the following press release from the AAR arrive in the Campaign inbox.

"The Mushroom Bureau, the body which is responsible for the generic publicity of all fresh cultivated mushrooms sold in the UK, is seeking an agency to produce a campaign to promote the food to UK consumers."

And there's a recession on so we probably shouldn't be surprised when some very respectable agencies get rather excited about the prospect of this particular pitch. Sitting in the usually frenetic press-day Campaign office and listening to the hum of the air con rather than the constant ring of the phones is illustration enough that this year, August is drier than ever.

Thank goodness, then, for the mega media pitch. Here's a few global ones that have gone into play so far this year: Nokia, Axa, Zurich, Vodafone, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever, Hyundai Kia, Kraft, General Motors. Meanwhile, in the UK, there's the COI buying pitch, Lloyds/TSB and Molson Coors. Big media reviews have kept our front page busy all year.

Yes, media pitches have been good for us. I'm not sure, though, that media agencies - even the winning ones - can wholeheartedly say the same. Cheaper prices are at the top of almost every client agenda, and cheaper media prices are a key factor in all of the media pitches listed above. Of course, first-class insight, planning, digital nous are all as important - if not more so - than ever. But the idea that clients might be prepared to pay more for this service has slipped.

And, as Ian Darby points out on page 14, in the face of these mega media reviews, the media agency market is aligning more firmly into a handful of very powerful players - the ones that can most easily absorb the relentless focus on price. The inevitable contraction of the market is an unhealthy prospect.

So with these few big media agency players all offering a highly sophisticated service, with as many strategic bells and whistles as you fancy, perhaps it's inevitable that the differentiator between them once again becomes price (media has never been the personality-led business that the creative agency marketplace has).

But there's no doubt that offering a quality service and then giving it away at a rock-bottom cost will curb future investment. And allowing media to slip back to become a commodity purchase seems to serve little purpose beyond short-term new-business growth.

So you can see where there's an opportunity for shrewd creative agencies to step in. With more and more creative agencies trying (and, admittedly, generally failing right now) to offer properly resourced strategic media insight alongside creative conception, it's to them that some clients will turn for clever media thinking when budgets ease a little.

The trouble is that in order to deliver on the cheap media that big clients are now demanding, media channel selection will be determined months, years even, before a creative agency is handed its latest brief. Which, at its crudest level, means creative agencies' chances of delivering the best creative work will be compromised by the media deal that precedes it. It happens already, of course. Almost every lunch I have with a senior creative eventually turns to their frustration over media. They're too often told to create for a specific medium, regardless of that medium's appropriateness to the creative idea or the account planning insight (though I can't imagine there's much complaint from the creative department if the medium dictated is television).

How many of the advertisers currently reviewing their media accounts are thinking through all the consequences of their decisions, I wonder. Then again, how many care? Being able to demonstrate significant cost-savings is a career necessity for many right now. And most of the current marketers are unlikely to be in the same job once the consequences of their brutal search for cheaper media emerge.

Topics