Why media agencies must not give up the day job
A view from Jeremy Lee

Why media agencies must not give up the day job

There's a certain neatness to the fact that Adam & Eve/DDB has teamed up with the producers of The Plane Crash, coming just a few days after Carat was responsible for producing what must be one of the biggest car crashes with its own content efforts.

Its execrable Guinness/The Jonathan Ross Show tie-up on ITV – for which the agency took over both ad breaks to run two pieces of long-form content created in-house – made you feel you were watching 25 years of brand equity and a rich advertising heritage disappear before your eyes.

You can imagine there were some awkward conversations over at Diageo and Carat once the realisation of quite what had happened hit home. Either way, the "comments" feature of the ad’s YouTube section was quickly disabled.

Much has been written already about why the Guinness piece failed, but it would be more interesting to know how it was allowed to happen in the first place and why no-one stopped, thought for a minute and pointed out the potential downside.

In the quest to achieve a "media first" (which, in the right context, is no bad goal at all), the usual considerations appeared to have been ignored. To be sympathetic, Carat was previously responsible for creating Bodyform’s excellent "the truth" viral, but the media shop seems to have got giddy with this success and thought it could transfer it to the big screen – an expensive and embarrassing mistake.

There is an argument that 'creativity' is not an area in which media agencies are equipped to dabble

Ultimately, the issue comes down to the fact that the word "content" has become the new battleground for agencies and all disciplines within are rushing to claim it as their own, maybe without realising that it is not where their core competency really lies. With a vast bandwidth to fill and an insatiable demand from clients to be seen as "publishers" (although whether there is a corresponding demand from the public is a moot point), the content market has become swamped with agencies pushing out "stuff" – whether good, bad or indifferent – in order to develop a new and potentially lucrative revenue stream.

Carat is, of course, a fine media planning and buying agency – its success in winning the British Airways and retaining the Santander media accounts confirms this – but there is an argument from creative shops that "creativity" is not an area in which Carat and other media agencies are equipped to dabble, lacking both the resources and the credentials. "Stick to your knitting," they say.

A perfectly valid response is: "They would say that, wouldn’t they?" But surely in an era of channel proliferation, the irony is that media agencies’ core competency of top-grade media strategy and planning has never been more important, and they stray from it at their peril.