ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- Re-bundling the creative with media in agencies got widespread support if sometimes sharp debate among marketers and agency executives in a panel on the future of the agency-client relationship at the Association of National Advertisers conference here today.
Among the more interesting exchanges were between Johnson & Johnson's top marketer, Brian Perkins, and the CEO of one of his agencies, BBDO Worldwide's Andrew Robertson over Mr. Perkins' support of re-bundling creative and media services.
On procurement, Mr. Perkins had a simple message for agencies: "Get over it."
Mr. Robertson, a former media executive himself, said on the idea of re-integrating media with creative shops that it "wasn't that good in the old days." He said the analytic, quantitative and strategic skills developed by media shops over the past two decades wouldn't have advanced nearly as much had media operations remained within creative-dominated full-service shops.
Mr. Perkins, corporate VP of corporate affairs of J&J, said re-bundling media with creative shops wouldn't necessarily mean executives from the creative side taking charge.
Mr. Perkins also elicited some back talk in his thinking on the role of digital and traditional creative agencies.
"The two people who've influenced me most on this topic are [Crispin Porter & Bogusky CEO] Chuck Porter and Bob Greenberg from R/GA," said Mr. Perkins on the subject of whether digital and traditional agencies should be separate.
"We're exactly opposite. How can that be?" Mr. Porter quickly retorted, noting Crispin's approach of having all creative disciplines together and Mr. Greenberg's belief that digital shops should lead.
Mr. Perkins said, "I don't think I'd ever select an agency of record based on channel," noting merit in both Mr. Porter's and Mr. Greenberg's beliefs.
J&J is still finalizing its global digital roster after a thorough review by Mr. Perkins and team this year. Crispin was among agencies passed over as contestants for J&J's global baby business early this year. And while R/GA is a shoo-in for the digital roster, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Porter, who got an enthusiastic pat on the back from Mr. Perkins at the outset of the panel, will make it onto J&J's roster through the digital door.
Lisa Cochrane, VP-marketing of Allstate, also proclaimed herself an advocate of former Ogilvy & Mather CEO Shelly Lazarus' belief that the full-service agency needs to be reunited.
The role of holding companies also came up, with agency executives from Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe and MDC Partners not surprisingly seeing advantages in the model and marketer executives having a more mixed outlook.
"I think a lot of clients are waiting for ... the whole of the holding company to be greater than the sum of its parts," Mr. Perkins said. "It's not easy. Historically, I think it's fair to say it hasn't been done a lot."
J&J has implemented holding-company-wide assignments across broad parts of its global pharmaceutical and medical device businesses with WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic. "I think we're seeing improvement," he said, adding that "walls are breaking down slowly" and brands are discovering resources they didn't previously have access to.
Marketers are partially responsible for holding companies not delivering more than the sum of their parts. "We have to pay for it," Ms. Cochrane said. "We sometimes get in the way by refusing to pay for the stuff we're asking for."
Ms. Cochrane is an unabashed proponent of media re-bundling who still sometimes slips and calls her media shop, Starcom, by the name of its former agency overlord, Leo Burnett. But she also said the key to making relations work among the many marketing specialists is that "good fences make good neighbors.
"I really believe ideas can come from anywhere," she said, but clients who shift the money based on where the ideas come from can help breed conflict. "The minute [an agency fears] someone it after [its] territory it's a problem."
All that of course led to the inevitable discussion of procurement.
One of Mr. Porter's solutions to widespread agency dislike of procurement is for marketers to compensate their procurement people based on the results agencies produce "rather than how cheap it is."
Mr. Perkins had a different take on the drumbeat of agency complaints about procurement. "To my agency friends, I say get over it," he said. "Like the digital revolution ... procurement isn't going away."
He acknowledged that a few years ago he wouldn't have appeared on a panel discussing procurement because "I was dissatisfied with how our organization was handling it." But he said J&J has improved its handling, and Mr. Robertson said he too sees broad improvements among more sophisticated clients focusing on process efficiencies rather than "hit and run" efforts to slash costs.
MediaVest USA CEO Bill Tucker said it's a different story with media agencies and procurement. "We are an extension of the procurement function" in media agencies, he said, so tend to have a better understanding of how the process works.
One of the simpler, and cheaper ways of improving client-agency relationships without spending any money is for clients to simply dish out positive reinforcement a little more freely, Mr. Robertson said.
"This may sound a bit kind of gooey," he said, "but I think most clients massively underestimate just how much better their agency team can be if they feel what they do matters ... to you."