MEDIA BUYING & PLANNING

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When the International Advertising Festival in Cannes awarded the first Media Lions this year, it was a clear sign "creative media" -- a term coined by media planners -- may not be such an oxymoron to the world anymore.

The Grand Prix Media Lion went to Cordiant Communications Group-owned 141 Palace Plus, Auckland, New Zealand, for a street campaign to launch Sony PlayStation's Tekken 3 and Gran Turismo. In all, 17 Media Lions were awarded.

The awards are only a symbolic representation of some tangible changes in marketing in recent years. Advertisers with increasing frequency are unbundling from creative accounts not only media buying, but also media planning.

COST EFFICIENT DRIVE?

Though some dismiss the torrent of media unbundling and consolidation as little more than a cost-efficiency drive, the growing importance of media planning is unmistakable. The changes could cause some fundamental shifts in how agencies and advertisers work together in years ahead.

"I think media specialization has had an impact on the overall marketing campaign, but I don't think necessarily media consolidation has," says Bob Brennan, chief operating officer of Chicago-based Leo Burnett Co.'s Starcom USA. "It doesn't matter to a creative team who's buying the media. But the client has embraced a strategic involvement in media upfront in the marketing communications process [and] that has led to changes in the marketing plan."

Media planning is moving up both in terms of timing and importance, Mr. Brennan says.

STARTED ABOUT CREATIVE

"When [Starcom Worldwide CEO Jack Klues and Mr. Brennan] started in the business in the early 1980s, successful marketing was all about great creative, because you dealt with a very static media environment, and the only way to really break through and build a brand was to have a great message," Mr. Brennan says.

"Today, the media environment has so changed that you can't have a great brand unless you have great creative and great media," he contends.

"When we started in the business, 95% of your success was great creative, and 5% was great media. I don't know that it's 50-50 now, but it's much closer to 50-50 today than it was when we started."

CART BEFORE HORSE?

After years of creative driving the media decisions at some key accounts, media plans are in some cases driving creative, at least in limited ways.

Unilever is in the midst of revamping its global marketing process to make strategic media planning the first order of business in developing brand marketing plans, with creative developed to fit the strategic media plans.

The idea, according to executives familiar with the company's plans, is to make the package-goods giant rely less automatically on TV and start its media plans each year from the ground up.

At P&G, one of the most notable media unbundlers and consolidators of recent years, media planning falls at various stages of the planning process, depending on the brand and its needs, according to a spokeswoman.

But there, too, signs are that media planning is taking on a new and more important look.

TRIED TO CHANGE THINKING

The former VP-media and programming at P&G, James Van Cleave, now an independent media consultant, recounts trying with limited success to convince brand managers and agency creatives to consider radio and outdoor -- in addition to TV and print -- during his tenure in the early 1990s.

Agencies, however, usually argued they didn't have any creative that fit with radio and outdoor, he says.

Almost invariably, campaigns evolved as TV concepts, which later were adapted to print, then might be applied to some other media if time and budgets permitted.

Though P&G still spends most of its media dollars on TV and almost all on either TV or magazines, the company is showing signs of sophisticated media planning for other media, says Erwin Ephron, principal of media consultancy Ephron Papazian & Ephron.

He notes the out-of-home campaign launched last year for P&G's flagship Tide brand from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. The campaign isn't an adaptation of the "Family Tide" TV and print campaign, but rather a media-specific and situation-specific campaign, featuring copy such as "Two hot dogs, mustard, foul ball" on outdoor boards at or near ballparks.

DIFFERENT KIND OF TARGETING

"The Tide outdoor stuff is terrific, because it opens up the whole area of targeting in a different way," Mr. Ephron says. "That is, environmental targeting. Receptivity targeting. Context targeting, which I think is terrific. If you use the person's life as the context of the message, that's so much stronger than if you use the medium as the context of the message."

At first, the Tide outdoor campaign might appear to have nothing to do with media unbundling. After all, though P&G took TV and print buying and some aspects of planning away from its brand roster shops, brand managers and creative agencies continue to do broad media planning for those media and all planning for outdoor.

P&G's media agencies are responsible only for selecting specific media within TV and print budgets allocated by P&G and brand agency executives.

But taking such "tactical" media decisions away from brand managers was intended to free them to spend more time delving into their brands' connection with consumers and new ways of reaching them including outdoor says P&G Global Marketing Officer Bob Wehling at the time of the move.

WHERE'S CONTROL?

A looming area of change and conflict in marketing at large, however, is giving media specialists a growing voice in strategic planning or the decisions regarding what media to use and how much weight to give them.

"The prevailing wisdom or practice is that the creative agency ought to be able to dictate overall strategy -- target audience, seasonality of the brand, basic objectives, the nuts-and-bolts stuff," says Mr. Van Cleave. "And then it becomes a matter of simple execution by planning and buying agencies . . . "I think what the clients are trying to do is leave the functions where they can best be done. The brand and creative agency have the best handle on the brand's inner workings and creative strategy and how that might be matched with the media strategy."

Mr. Brennan, however, believes media specialists' technological edge in use of advanced optimization technology will ultimately drive more strategic planning assignments their way, too. Facilitating that move are advertisers that have bundled buying for all forms of media, not just TV and print, with specialty agencies, including General Motors Corp. with GM MediaWorks and Ford Motor Co. with Ford Motor Media.

REAL-TIME DECISION MAKING

"I think you'll see more of that," Mr. Brennan says. "The fact is that you've got to be able to plan media so discretely and react on a real-time basis to what's going on in the marketplace that having it all in one place is going to be the way of the future."

The split today remains mostly with creative and planning at full-service agencies and buying at media specialists, Mr. Ephron says, but he sees media specialists girding to do the full range of planning.

One practical reason, he says, is that handling the planning account simply isn't profitable for agencies considering what clients are willing to pay for the function.

On the other hand, he says, full-service agencies often resist loss of planning because of "fear of simply turning into creative boutiques."

SEEKING MIDDLE GROUND

Regardless of who handles what aspects of planning, however, Mr. Ephron sees a need to reach a middle ground in terms of the role of media and creative in the overall marketing process.

"I don't think [media planning] can go on in a vacuum. We've had decades of creative dictating media channels. Now are we going to have media channels dictate creative? It makes sense to integrate both and to look at the whole

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