Media planning strives for right fit

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To plan or not to plan" is the dilemma confronting media buying shops as they continue to evolve and grow.

But, insiders say they expect full-service media agencies will ultimately snatch the bulk of the industry's business from advertising agencies and buying-only shops.

There aren't any blueprints for specialist media shops, although the strongest influencers are the buying models that have immigrated from Europe such as Carat.

`BAD BOYS OF BUSINESS'

The first and oldest native U.S. media buying shop, Time Buying Services, now RDR Associates' TBS Media Management, opened its doors in 1960. Western International Media followed in 1966.

"We were the bad boys of the business," says Frank Muratore, president-CEO of TBS, New York. "Advertising agencies were screaming that media buying and planning should be under one roof . . . theirs."

The media specialist function drew the spotlight in 1995, when Bates and Saatchi & Saatchi unbundled their media buying and planning to create what is now Saatchi's Zenith Media Worldwide, New York.

MINDSHARE SPRINTS AHEAD

WPP Group's MindShare, which originally launched overseas, opened for business in the U.S. in March this year and is now the largest worldwide media shop with $17 billion in billings.

The rise of MindShare and its strong advocacy of the philosophy of merging buying and planning, has accelerated the full-service agenda.

"It's like a copywriter and art director working hand in hand at a creative agency. A media buyer and planner can have that same synergism," says Bill Koenigsberg, president CEO of Horizon Media, New York. Horizon is one of the first independent U.S. agencies to mix the two disciplines. "Buyers give enormous input from a marketing standpoint to the planning group and our planners have to have lots of interaction."

Not all media executives share Mr. Koenigsberg's viewpoint.

"If you take a look at the overall brand stewardship. . .the media planning element becomes a very strategic and integral part of the overall communication process," says Kevin Coyne, exec VP-media director and new technologies at Bates North America. "It is very integral to creative, and as technology unfolds in the future it will become more so. Trying to unbundle that piece and connect it with buying is a mistake."

Mr. Koenigsberg disagrees.

"We get a lot of input from the creative side because we believe that communication is critical to the process," he says and adds the two disciplines do not need to be under one roof as long as there is good communication between the client and the agencies.

Mr. Coyne not only believes that planning should be an in-house department at the creative agency, he goes so far as to suggest that eventually, the discipline will be merged with the brand planning departments or strategic services.

FRONT-END BID

"It will become a front-end piece. Media planning and strategic planning will merge together. And then both media buying and creative development will come after the fact," says Mr. Coyne. Proprietary brand information, shared with the planning department, is of significant concern to some creative agencies and their clients. They don't want buying shops having access to this information.

Omnicom Group's Optimum Media Direction, New York, resolves this problem by only handling buying -- not planning -- for its sister agencies BBDO and DDB.

"For some clients we have to be flexible," says Steve Grubbs, managing partner-CEO of OMD USA. "There's no one model that works. The reason we didn't do what MindShare did is because we just simply don't agree it's the right model. We're not trying to have clients fit our structure, we fit our clients' structures."

PLANNING EXPANSION

On the other hand, OMD does have some planning capabilities and intends to expand planning services.

"I'll put it this way," says Mr. Grubbs. "We have planning capabilities we can tap into and probably within three to four months we'll have some planning personnel.

"But," he adds, "those planning personnel will service the OMD

media-only business. They'll be working directly with the clients, with their clients' creative agencies and the buyers in OMD.

"We are aggressively going after media-only assignments and in those cases where they require planning services we will staff them with OMD planners," he says. "For existing business, the planning teams continue functioning as they do now within the agencies. But in terms of a long-term plan to fold into OMD the planning departments at our agencies, the answer is absolutely no."

The final decision regarding whether to keep media bundled, unbundled in part or in total, will be made by clients such as Unilever, says Paul Woolmington, the worldwide vice-chairman and chief strategic officer at Young & Rubicam's Media Edge, New York

PUSH TO COMBINE

Not only has Unilever been largely responsible for forcing its media shops -- MindShare and Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media Worldwide -- to combine their planning and buying functions, but, according to Mr. Woolmington, the company is asking the shops to turn the entire marketing process on its head, so media strategy comes before creative.

"Unilever is instigating a series of procedures in which they have anointed their media specialists as people who will drive the first step. Macro planning, or channel planning as they are calling it . . . will then be the brief for the agencies," he says.

"I think the future will be one in which communications and media planning will have to be done absolutely at the same time as brand strategy or before," he adds. "Essentially, media needs to be done at a much earlier stage."

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