Forging a strategic chain

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It's nice to be loved.

There seems to be a great impending custody battle over who gets to keep the media planners, according to an article in Advertising Age's July 31 Special Report on media buying and planning ("Media planning strives for the right fit").

Bill Koenigsberg of Horizon Media says buyers and planners should be linked. Kevin Coyne from Bates North America thinks media planning and creative must be bundled. Down the road, he envisions media planning tied in with the strategic service folks.

My response: "Yes, yes and yes."

Here's the big idea, guys.

What about a full-service ad agency where all departments interact with each other on a constant basis? It was a good idea back in the dark ages of the advertising business, and it's a good idea now.

Sometimes the media planner will interact with the creatives in the kitchen over bad Chinese food. Sometimes with the strategic planners in a traffic jam on the way to a client meeting. Sometimes the interaction will occur during a heated fantasy football dispute.

The good full-service agencies will actually institutionalize this kind of interaction and not rely on random acts of interaction.

GOAL: GIVE BETTER SERVICE

How can you argue this isn't a better media planning mousetrap? Show me a client who doesn't want his or her media planners interacting with the creative people and the strategic planners. Isn't this what it's all about -- giving our clients better service and a better product? Since when did the "balkanization" of the media planning function make any sense at all?

Don't get me started on media planners and media buyers. (OK, I'm started already). The media marketplace is a bazaar, with conditions and opportunities in constant flux. A broadcast buyer has his or her finger on the pulse of the market and should constantly be alerting planners to appropriate inventory and opportunities.

Tom Wilson taught me back in the days of McCaffery & McCall that the worst media plans are those that are "bound by the tyranny of the media flowchart." Separating the planning from the buying almost guarantees this worst-case scenario.

I was fortunate enough to work at an independent media agency (DeWitt Media) that was smart enough to see how critical it is to link buying and planning functions. However, it was still the case that the media team was working in a vacuum.

BRINGING A MEDIA PLAN TO LIFE

Think about it. How often do media people attend creative focus groups in an unbundled situation? My experience was: never. I do all the time at my current agency.

Intelligent consumer insight is what brings a media plan to life. If your job is to effectively and efficiently reach consumers, it might be a good idea to see them and listen to them first-hand. Syndicated research is a valuable tool, but a group of prospects sitting around a table telling you they watch nothing but CNBC nine hours a day and "The Simpsons" for the remaining hours is pretty powerful stuff.

At Hampel/Stefanides, we take this philosophy a step farther by also linking traditional and new media. We don't buy into the idea that online media are completely different than traditional media. The creative team that is responsible for the TV effort is responsible for the online banners and all elements in between.

`THAT'S PROPRIETARY'

We have been in meetings with new media specialist agencies that, when asked for their process and rationale for a media recommendation, respond with "that's proprietary." Once we picked ourselves up off the floor, we explained that at our agency everything must be grounded in the same disciplines and strategies that drive the rest of the marketing effort. And these aren't "secret" disciplines and strategies that we deny others access to.

I suppose it's easier for us to operate this way because we don't treat our traditional and new media departments as separate profit centers. Therefore, we are not competing for the client's media dollars. Rather, we're just collaborating to find the best solution to meet a client's challenge. Sometimes the solution is a TV ad; sometimes it's a banner. It's much harder to get the right answer if an interdisciplinary team isn't sitting in a room together -- media planners, account people, creatives, strategy gurus, etc. Integration simply works better.

GET IN BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE

Too often in an unbundled situation, the first time the media planner sees the creative product is when it hits the airwaves. Clearly, that's too late. There might have been a better delivery vehicle for that message.

And what happens when the creatives are frozen out of the media planning process? Sometimes a media opportunity arises that inspires a great creative concept. Or sometimes you sit in on a creative brainstorming session and a media idea goes from your "futures file" to become a viable solution.

If the media team and creative team aren't sure where each other lives, the odds of making magic become slim to none.

Are there disadvantages to the "under one roof" scenario? Sure. The account planning guys consistently order too many pork dumplings. And I think the creatives just may be fixing our fantasy football league.

But we are not ready to "trade" each other for anything, because we know our team approach gives our clients a real competitive advantage.

Ms. Danuff is senior VP-director of media resources, Hampel/Stefanides, New York.

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