Rumours of death of comms planning are greatlyexaggerated

Are the wheels falling off at Naked Communications? Critics will once again say so following this week's news that Honda, a client it has had for four years, has decided to end the relationship.

Honda's actions will add weight to the argument of those who say that Naked and similar agencies are full of piss and wind, offering little of substance to their clients. Especially when Honda's new head of marketing, Jeff Dodds, says that the car company has no "requirement for a communications planning agency".

So does this sort of big client decision spell the death of the communications planning agency? Hardly. Naked had a relatively long and successful tenure on the Honda business, picking up plaudits for its support work for the "cog" commercial in particular. It will continue to work on projects for Honda but it sounds as if Honda feels that it no longer needs to retain the agency because it has completed its initial strategic tasks.

However, my point is that Honda's actions aren't typical - that greater numbers of clients are moving communications planning up the agenda, and that this process is still being driven by many of those who were in the vanguard several years ago.

Take, for example, COI, which this March expanded its communications planning roster from seven agencies to 14, praising the "quality of presentations" from agencies of various shapes and sizes. One strategy that COI seems to have modified since, though, is the practice of pairing pitching media strategy agencies with ad agencies.

This still happens on occasions but, more frequently of late, COI has also held media planning-only pitches for government departments (resulting in PHD's appointment to the Child Support Agency, Naked's to the UK Passport Service and MindShare's to the Learning & Skills Council). This practice seems to have been welcomed by agencies and seems especially suited to tasks where advertising might not be the only or the whole solution.

The more flexible strategy also places greater emphasis on the ability of the media agency, whereas before, the award of an account often appeared to come down to the quality of the advertising idea. OK if your partner ad agency is on the ball but not when, as one agency source puts it, "you feel like Ronaldinho partnered with Emile Heskey".

On the whole, though, COI deserves continued praise for making the creative and media worlds work together while realising that advertising is not always the solution.

For the Nakeds of this world, though, the old Catch 22 still exists: do a good strategic job and you've basically solved the problem and talked yourself out of that job. It's about constantly finding new areas to add value, which is no easy task.

Topics