Filling a need

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Advertising agencies can bemoan the clout of the new media giants from AOL Time Warner on down, but the

wiser agencies-in this case, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann-are taking the initiative.

Universal McCann's new Cross Media Council, formed to evaluate the complex proliferation of multiplatform media "partnerships" these media giants offer and make recommendations to clients, clearly is a proactive step for both advertiser and agency.

Of course, there are perils for agencies that do not develop expertise in the cross-media deals now reshaping the nature of the business. Some say the rise of dedicated cross-media units is a defensive move-to prevent media conglomerates from going directly to advertisers and thereby reducing the importance of the media buying agency, if not eliminating it entirely. There may be some truth to that. But the larger reality is that with the creation of units such as Viacom Plus and News Corp. One, the nature of the business is changing.

"It's not just a transactional business anymore," said Joe Mangione, senior VP at Turner Broadcasting's Solutions Group, which is one cog in the massive AOL Time Warner. "There is such fragmentation of media that it is really hard for the big marketers to sort through it."

That's where the role of agencies becomes even more critical.

The media buying tango, where clients seek the best price and the media seek to boost that price across more properties, may be best choreographed by media buying agencies. Not only do they know their clients' needs best, they also know how to wring the most favorable prices out of the media. Ultimately, that results in fair price competition for everyone.

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