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For latest trends, U.S. turns to Britain

Feb 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

London often sets the pace when it comes to the advertising industry, and if the latest mini-trend in the United Kingdom is any indication, media planning may be headed back in-house.
From media independents in the early 1970s to Zenith, the first dependent, in the 1980s, from media planning pioneers PHD in the early 1990s to Michaelides & Bednash, the first to practice media strategy exclusively, later that same decade, it happened in London first.
By the time the American ad business grudgingly followed suit, the debate about the damage done by unbundling media from the creative agencies was already raging in the United Kingdom.
Today, creative agencies are not happy about ceding media planning to the Starcoms and PHDs, and there is a mini-trend taking shape that sees media planning-or at least media planners-being brought back into the creative agency fold.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty, in London, has headhunters looking for an in-house media planning guru, a position younger agencies such as Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and St. Luke’s already retain. Meanwhile Clemmow Hornby Inge, London’s boldest new start-up, has just inked a deal with Naked to create Naked Inside to execute media planning within the agency.
To Graham Bednash, founding partner of Michaelides & Bednash, this is “deja vu.” He worked at the iconoclastic agency of the 1990s, HHCL & Partners, when it had a similar in-house planning resource named Bullet Media, headed by his partner today, George Michaelides.
“M&B, like Bullet, is about the recognition that creative and media planning together have to be at the core of a brand’s strategy,” Mr. Bednash said. “But the difference is that what is going on today is creatives are reacting against simply being told what they should do by media buyers.”
According to Robin Kent, the worldwide CEO of Universal McCann, the move toward re-integration is crossing the Atlantic as well. “It already is happening, but as much at the bigger agencies as the small ones,” Mr. Kent said. “J. Walter Thompson Detroit has media planner on Ford. DDB, BBDO and TBWA never wanted to cede their planners in the first place. You can’t get a lot of big agencies to admit it on the record, but they are horrified by what has happened. It’s a nonsense it ever was allowed to happen.”
Mr. Kent went on to suggest a new model for re-integrating media planners at creative agencies: “You can have teams that are dedicated to the creative agency, perhaps even sit there physically. But they have a dotted line report to that agency and a straight line to the media agency. It will happen.”
As companies such as M&B, which launched in the United States in 2001, and Naked, which launched in the United Kingdom in 2000, have evolved, they have begun to combine account and media planning, Mr. Bednash said. They have more direct influence than ever over the creative work for clients such as Channel Four television by briefing creative agencies.
“Both media buying and creative agencies are very worried that they are not responding well enough to the changed media landscape,” he continued. “For example, television is still extraordinarily powerful, but today it’s about creating a content idea for television that you can then merchandise, rather than just an ad.”
“The question is not whether or not ad agencies should handle media but where should neutral communications advice come from in the 21st century,” Mr. Collins said. “The brief-writing function of the account planner now seems woefully parochial, and the media planner needs to evolve to embrace communications planning.”