Distancing creative from media leads to incohesive marketing mess

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When he's negotiating media deals, ESPN/ABC Sports' Ed Erhardt wants as many people in the room as can comfortably (or even uncomfortably) fit.

At the Television Week/Ad Age Upfront Summit the other week, Ed asked why there weren't any creative people in the room as part of the buyer-seller dialogue. They would presumably represent the "engagement" side of the equation. (As in "How do you measure viewer engagement?" which another panelist wanted to know.)

Ed's point is that there are a lot of various interests and viewpoints represented by the parties involved in a media buy (or should be involved in a media buy), including account and media planners and the creative team-and if everybody isn't pulling in the same direction, the message won't get through, or at least won't get through in a way to fully engage the viewer.

But too often all those disparate voices are pulling in opposite directions, and that's the fault of the agency structure that's been evolving since the Big Bang erupted in the mid-`80s. In his piece for our 75th Anniversary issue, DDB Worldwide's Keith Reinhard (and himself a participant in the Big Bang), voiced the hope that in 10 years we'll have reported that media planning "has somehow been reintegrated into the agency creative process."

The truth is media planners are often not in the same room when media buys are made, let alone providing input to the creative process.

In another article he wrote that appeared the day before Sept. 11 and Keith fears nobody read, he explained how media buying and planning got disentangled: In media's first generation "we were not able to bring the media function to a prominent enough position within our full-service agencies" and so "we needed a second generation-a decade of unbundling the function-to give the practice of media buying and planning sufficient stature. But now that the function has been elevated and all the cost savings have been squeezed out, we need to bring on media's third generation, a time of reintegration." Keith believes that media strategy should be aligned with brand values and creative strategy, and that's what reintegration will accomplish.

Can you imagine how far that goal is from becoming a reality at General Motors, where the auto goliath has separate agencies for media buying and planning? GM said it wanted a checks-and-balances system, presumably to make sure neither was putting something over on the automaker. So does that mean that they both have to do each other's work?

My main concern in all this nonsense is that strategic recommendations on both media and creative are getting to the marketer in piecemeal fashion. Add that to the problem that marketers have a decidedly mixed record of evaluating advertising under the best of circumstances, and it's inevitable that "creativity is at an all-time low" as Bob Brennan, director-marketing services at Miller Brewing Co., put it at the Upfront Summit.

What marketers need is unified advice, and what they're getting is bits and pieces compiled from multiple and varied agency inputs. Is that one reason Coca-Cola decided to bring the account planning function in-house rather than leave it up to its agencies?

And I can't help but think A.G. Lafley's decision to resign from the GM board wasn't based entirely on antitrust grounds. I have a hunch Mr. Lafley got sick and tired of watching GM screw up its agency relationships (the shootout between GM Mediaworks and GM Planworks) and the advertising approval process, where the company continually turns out lackluster advertising to promote lackluster cars.

Procter & Gamble needs Mr. Lafley's full attention without the diversion of GM's impending train wreck.

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