"Media, creative and marketing are inexorably linked," says David Verklin, exec VP-managing director of Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, and the shop's media chief.
A growing number of agencies, looking to amass media-buying clout and compete with independent media buying services, have restructured their media departments.
Some shops, such as the New York offices of Bozell Worldwide and D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, have spun off media-buying operations into stand-alone units.
But proponents of the full-service agency model say the use of integrated marketing to help build brands gives extra credence to having a full-service media department.
"Brand-building requires teamwork and not isolation," says Steve Farella, exec VP-director of media services, Jordan, McGrath, Case & Taylor, New York. "It's inconceivable to us that we would unbundle the media department."
As an example of teamwork at Jordan McGrath, Mr. Farella noted one of the agency's recent media successes, an effort to position Smithkline Beecham Consumer Products' Tums as not just an antacid but as a calcium supplement.
The agency produced a 30-minute syndicated TV show on the bone disease osteoporosis. It aired in April in about 90 markets, and commercials for Tums were included.
"We would never have been able to pull it off if we were unbundled," Mr. Farella says.
The media department at Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, offers clients media choices that are "solution neutral," or unbiased to any media.
The agency uses a database dubbed EncycLEOmedia, which lists a wide range of options designed to reach the client's audience target.
For example, last year the shop created a multifaceted marketing campaign for Samsonite Corp. luggage. The campaign, highlighting pieces from different luggage lines, included ads in airports, through the Airport Channel place-based TV service and backlit dioramas in airport hallways; and ads on planes, in in-flight magazines and on "Road Warrior," a business-travel themed segment on USA Today's Sky Radio in-flight channel.
In addition, the plan called for kiosks at airports in seven major cities. At the kiosks, consumers were allowed to "sample" the luggage and were given a how-to-pack-your-suitcase demonstration.
The campaign currently is in hiatus but will resume soon, according to a Burnett spokesperson.
In the interactive future, more than synergy between agency departments is at stake, as the function of the media department moves further away from solely making traditional media buys.
"We work with vendors and potential vendors of new media forms to make sure the media function is in the future and not in the past," says Dick Hobbs, senior VP-worldwide media director at Burnett.
Marketing innovations will be tied even more closely to a full-service media department, some say. Creative specific to each interactive medium must be developed up front.
For example, budgets for creative will depend on the media used. Instead of one pricy TV spot, perhaps several inexpensive creative efforts will be required for new-media executions.
"It will be hard to be a player in the new electronic media without a full-service media department," Mr. Verklin contends.
Mr. Verklin also believes agencies that elect to outsource their buying miss out on hearing media ideas from sales reps.
"The sales reps are a huge source of ideas and the reps tend to follow the money," says Mr. Verklin.
In 1989, Mr. Verklin gathered sales reps, among others, to brainstorm for marketing ideas for the launch of General Motors Corp.'s Saturn subsidiary. That session eventually led to several successful Saturn media buys, including one on all California outdoor boards that had lost cigarette ads.
Along with these arguments for the full-service agency are the previous selling points agencies have used against buying services.
In the best case, supporters of the agency full-scale media department say, media-buying services are big combines whose only advantage is economy of scale.
In the worst case, they say, some operations, especially those buying on the spread, might "cook" the buy in a way that will bring them savings but not the visibility the advertising needs-prime-time network TV for less but maybe not quality time.
"I could buy 100 spots on `Gilligan's Island,' but what am I saving?" says Mr. Verklin. "The media department must give the creative work a fighting chance."
When the fight is guerilla warfare, executives say, the full-service media department is even more handy. Agencies handling airlines, for example, must be ready to move quickly to respond to fare wars or to pull or place advertising following tragedies or other events.
When United Airlines shareholders approved an employee stock ownership plan on July 12, Burnett placed TV spots trumpeting the announcement on ABC's "World News Tonight" and "Nightline." Similarly themed newspaper ads ran the next day in various cities.
"Speed of action is very important," says Mr. Hobbs.
When the economy turns around, so will client demand for a full-service media department, some media executives say.
As budget constraints start to ease, so to will the emphasis on pinching pennies on media buys, they note.
"Some clients are nervous because sales are down and they get into unbundled services because they think they can get a better deal a la carte than they can paying for the full meal," says Jean Pool, senior VP-director of local market broadcast, J. Walter Thompson USA, New York.
But after the economy turns around, "that extreme pressure won't be there and people will see how valuable full service partnership [between an agency and client] is," she says. "Those who worked unbundled will come to the conclusion that partnership is important regardless of what the economy does."
In addition, Ms. Pool adds, not all advertisers that unbundle their accounts are prepared to manage their business.
Some clients "don't have a firm grasp of what it takes" to oversee unbundled services, she says. If they "get burned a couple of times," they might come back to the full-service fold, she adds.
At the agency, a lot more people are looking after the pieces, she believes.
Still, for some advertisers, unbundled media might be the only fit.
Take fast-food giant Burger King Corp., with its troubled history of franchisee relations.
The marketer awarded the creative portion of the account last March to Ammirati & Puris, New York, but kept media work at DMB&B, New York.
By having several agencies on board, "when the franchisees revolt, they can fire the creative agency without totally disrupting their marketing," one agency executive says.