Media Kitchen stirs up media-planning recipe

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Paul Woolmington wearing an apron around his waist is an image that doesn't quite sit right, but get used to it. The former vice chairman of WPP Group's Media Edge Worldwide is cooking up what he hopes will be a new kind of media-planning shop, Media Kitchen, in partnership with independent ad agency Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners.

"We're going to be the first media agency to have account planners and creatives in the media operation," said Mr. Woolmington, CEO, whose plans for Media Kitchen were reported first by Advertising Age (AA, July 30). "The sensibility of Media Kitchen will be a blend of account planning and media planning."

The trend in the media-agency business these days is the emergence of huge buying and planning specialist companies such as WPP's MindShare and Bcom3 Group's Starcom MediaVest Group, which have separated out from creative shops.

Mr. Woolmington calls his shop the next stage in the evolution of media agencies. His operation will be separate from an ad agency, but it will act like an ad agency. Media Kitchen will help clients not only figure out where they are going to advertise, but it will also help them understand that where they advertise will influence what they should say about the brand.

"The emphasis is on creative planning rather than just media," said Stacey Lesser, brand-planning director at New York agency Kirshenbaum. "Paul and I have strategized very closely in the last couple of months, and our intention is to continue with that collaboration."


Media Kitchen will not only service clients of Kirshenbaum-such as Liberty Mutual, Revlon and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts-but will seek out its own business around the world, both with other agencies and directly with clients.

With Kirshenbaum's client list, the shop will start with billings of $450 million, according to Mr. Woolmington, which would place it behind Horizon Media, which has U.S. billings of $785 million and is ranked No. 15 in Advertising Age's list of top media specialist companies.

Media Kitchen has been a long time simmering. Mr. Woolmington left Media Edge in January and soon after began discussions with Kirshenbaum executives and Tempus Group's CIA Medianetwork, which was to be a third partner in Media Kitchen. CIA already does buying for Kirshenbaum, and the original idea was for CIA to be lead buyer for the new shop. After Havas Advertising last month agreed to buy Tempus, that part of the deal fell through. It's to be determined whether the relationship between CIA and Kirshenbaum will continue.

"One of the issues that I was concerned about was CIA ending up in a rival's hands, or in the hands of [another] public company. And that has happened," said Mr. Woolmington, who is now talking to Horizon Media in New York, among others, to become a possible third wheel. "We are not looking for an outsource relationship," he said. "We are looking for a relationship to act as more of an opportunity for another agency or a complementary brand, or another media company."

Media Kitchen is not a completely novel idea. The company follows a unique tradition of small independent British shops.

"The U.K. went through these stages about 10 years ago," said Emma Cookson, account-planning director at Bcom3-backed Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York. "There was a big trend towards media unbundling and consolidation of media shops that focused on buying. And then subsequently there has been a backlash, with smaller media shops such as Unity and Michaelides & Bednash that offer strategic and brand consulting."

Meanwhile, at Bartle Bogle the agency has a long tradition of putting its brand planners and media planners in pairs, much like copywriters working with art directors in creative teams. "They are really two sides of the same coin," Ms. Cookson said. "If you think about media in isolation, you think about it as reach. But if you think about it in relation to brand strategy, you think about it as context and how it touches people."


Media Kitchen will staff up with "hybrid" employees who have worked both in media and brand planning. Kirshenbaum started early on this, hiring Blake Callaway, former media strategist at Omnicom Group's Merkley Newman Harty, last year as a communications strategist. "He's a straddle person," explained Ms. Lesser. "He has the discipline, the rigor and the training of a media person but he also has the head of an account planner. He will be part of the planning department and part of the Media Kitchen. The hope is to have more people like that."

The creative media approach is increasingly being adopted by U.S. agencies such as DiMassimo Brand Advertising, New York, which combines brand planning with media planning on all of its accounts. "How do we compete against huge media conglomerates that are touting proprietary research as well as buying clout in the marketplace?" said Doug Ray, managing partner-director of integration at DiMassimo. "Well, the way we do that is to say we have a much more strategic approach to our media. We are more creative and we link it back to the actual brand idea."

"Everybody says there is an incredible lack of differentiation in the media marketplace," Mr. Woolmington said. "I'm staggered by the extent of the megalomania of all this media consolidation. Creative agencies and even some clients are saying `We're really low down on the pecking order with these giants.' With the Media Kitchen, we plan to create alliances with other [independent] agencies as well as go after direct accounts. There are a number of things we're cooking up."

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