Is it time for agency creative & media to sit together again?

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In the  early ’90s, agencies hived off their media planning & buying divisions into specialist units. Several of them, with control of billions of dollars in marketing monies, have gone onto become media powerhouses with incredible clout – after all, money is power. In mature & developing media markets, there are media heavyweights who match the creative superstars in terms of stature and influence.

The genesis of all this was the desire to set up, ‘media neutral’ agencies in an environment where mass media spending was on a huge upswing. For clients, this was a great way to lower costs thanks to the increased negotiating power of these specialist agencies. As a s suit, I have observed that clients saw media planners as genuine specialists (as opposed to generalists in Account Management)  and their inputs were valued. As they grew bigger and bigger, their interaction with the creative agency became lesser. Over the years, while the interaction between Strategic Planning and Creative increased prior to campaign development, the interaction between Media & Creative has definitely reduced. The focus of media planning seems to effective utilization of client’s media monies. Any value addition in terms of taking the creative idea forward in media happens after the creative is developed (mostly). Media innovations based on the campaign or brand idea already developed seems to be the norm. Media is still the last mile in terms of campaign planning.

When creative & media were bundled, all it took for the inquisitive copywriter to figure out an innovative media idea was to walk a few paces and have a chat with that bright young media planner. I remember so many creative ideas coming from the media team on a campaign – as it was being developed. Frankly, I miss that nowadays. Apart from the lack of interaction and exchange of ideas, the critical difference between the 1990s and now is the way media is consumed by the consumer. TV was still king in the early ’90s. In India, it still is. But the landscape has changed dramatically. Even with categories that rely solely on TV (FMCG, for example), the opportunities beyond the :30-sec spot is huge. It would be great if 2 creative minds – from Creative & Media, discussed the brand idea from the very beginning instead of the baton being passed on to the media planner (often from another agency group, sitting in another office). Clients seem to be happy with the way things are – separating Creative from Media, for several reasons: the system is working, it’s too complicated to re-align or expect a creative agency to have an equally good media agency etc.

Interestingly, what is applicable to creative & media agencies may not be applicable in the digital side of things. Earlier a copywriter could walk up to the media planner and chat about innovations in the magazine ad or outdoor. It was easy partly because both understood the medium. The same can’t be said about the average copywriter and the digital medium.

I am not suggesting that there is no enhancement or value addition to the creative idea from media agencies in today’s unbundled environment. But the depth and quality of interaction between two individuals who both have the same interests at heart – creating more impact for the client’s media monies through creative thinking, is perhaps dwindling if not missing altogether.

Will agencies revert to the old system? Will clients encourage or even goad agencies toward making this happen? I doubt. The bullet is already out of the chamber.  And its far too complicated than a simple matter of getting the creative and media specialists to talk before the campaign is created.

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  1. I think it is myopic when agencies try to call themselves as creative, media. buying etc. as you rightly said, it is so complicated that clients will be opting for simpler solutions in the future

    • Thanks, Harish. Question is:when is the future? I don't see the system/setup changing for many many years to come. There are far too many things to worry about in terms of re-bundling and it's not as simple as housing all the team members in the same building anymore.

    • @bhatnaturally not just creative & media, but anthropologists,technologists, scientists, lawyers, doctors, architects, etc. wat say?

  2. If I'm not mistaken, your shop used to pride itself on being integrated (a bit more than the others), as also there is a movement within the industry to bring engagement planning in-house. Positive step, no doubt because the way media is currently "sold" or spoken about in meetings, is frankly a bit shabby (think of large meetings with multiple contractors, and each one trying to prove a point – little or no chance of a brand essence making it alive out of one of those).

    What strikes me as particularly funny, is that isn't what you mention, exactly the way the business was a few years ago? At O&M, for instance. How and when did we turn into this "disaggregrated" model? And more importantly, why? Wasn't it a more "western world" oriented cost-saving approach? Am afraid, my comments don't really have perspective (too young in the industry), but some questions worth asking. Would love to hear your perspective.

    • harshal, i think clients forced agencies hands to set up specialist divisions as the media spends went up and they wanted best rates/planning etc. Similar prodding required to undo the unbundling perhaps?

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