In all the excitement over WPP’s annual results statement last
week, and chief executive Martin Sorrell’s slating of rampant inflation
on TV, few stopped to question his warning that advertisers could pull
out of TV.
Sorrell hit out at the rising cost of TV advertising on both sides of
the Atlantic and cautioned that inflation could prompt clients to
consider other media. Nothing new in that argument - so-called ’other
media’ have been peddling that line themselves in recent months, as a
quick glance at the poster outside your office will testify.
What’s interesting is not that Sorrell is smart enough to recognise the
opportunities of new media and digital TV (anyone who is set to make a
pounds 25 million bonus is pretty smart in my book), but that he should
choose to make media the headline of his financial statement.
Sorrell is no stranger to hitting the headlines with a media story. You
may remember the Campaign front page from 1996 when he announced that
the media departments of J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather should
merge. That particular story was born out of Sorrell’s frustration that
his agencies could not bury political hatchets and get the thing (now
called MindShare) moving themselves.
I wonder whether last week’s headlines had something of the same
motivation behind them. Because one thing’s for certain, no matter how
sensible it might seem from a media point of view to take a more
cost-effective route than TV when inflation is running well into double
figures, creatives still love a good old 30-second commercial.
The sad truth is that while MindShare is poised to launch as a creative
media operation, media companies are still battling with creative
preferences for certain media environments. For all the clever-clever
media ideas, if the creative agency has already decided on a
high-profile TV campaign, then the options for the media company to make
a difference are limited.
Things are changing, of course. Increasingly, advertisers recognise that
media agencies can help them understand and navigate communications
requirements, leaving creative issues to be addressed once media
strategy is decided.
But even the most successful media companies still ring me up to
announce proudly that they’ve been selected by some second-rate creative
agency to act as their partner in a creative-led pitch.
Maybe Sorrell is right, and advertisers will move their money out of TV
if prices continue to rise. But for this to happen, clients and
creatives must recognise that media companies have the insight to drive
such decisions and come up with alternatives before the creatives get
excited about the prospect of an overseas shoot.
And that means putting media right at the front of the process. As
MindShare prepares to open its doors for business, is there a message
here for JWT, O&M and other creative agencies around town?