Unraveling the media myth

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I've learned to hate that word unbundling. Here's why.

Taken literally, the business meaning of "unbundling" is "to price separately." Yet some people in our advertising business have added a different meaning when they apply it to independent media services agencies-and it badly misinterprets the intent of the unbundling concept.

This mistaken twist on unbundling suggests media agencies are dislodged somehow from the larger creative and marketing picture when they operate independently from the advertising agencies that create the ads. It's an outdated and faulty notion about media agencies, yet it still surfaces from time to time to "explain" why some marketer passed over an independent media agency in favor of a "full-service" agency.

The planning and buying of media today should be more integrated than ever into the broad communications process. And media does, in fact, play an increasingly important role on the marketing stage because advertisers are more concerned with their media investments, and agencies are more accountable for results. But independent media agencies were created precisely because advertisers wanted more from their investments. The independents responded with more research, more analytical tools and systems, more in-depth strategic planning, more negotiating leverage and buying efficiency-and more media service.

When "media" was under one roof with other ad functions, most "full-service" agencies were never willing to devote substantially more of their financial resources to their media departments. To many, media departments were pure overhead-and a drain on profits. The big bucks went first to the creative department and then to account management.

Independent media organizations, meanwhile, developed more resources and better skills; they won more business; and they consequently forced more of the big full-service agencies to "unbundle"-setting up their own media departments as independents to pursue a la carte business. They have successfully competed in recent years, winning the vast majority of advertisers' media planning and buying assignments.

Today, almost all large agencies or agency holding companies have created media entities. They've taken on a different name, a new positioning and, most important, a focus devoted to enhancing media performance and accountability through greater investment in staff and resources. Advertisers have embraced the concept. Agency-of-record assignments accounting for more than 70% of all media placement are today handled through media agencies.

High quality work supported

While these entities price their media offering separately, it doesn't mean an advertiser necessarily pays more for media service than it did when it was "bundled" with a "full-service" agency. What it does mean is this: The revenue at media agencies goes to support high quality media planning and buying. It does not get spread around over non-media functions.

Another key benefit for advertisers: The media people who do the work get to meet face to face with clients. Media professionals, like those in creative, are in the best position to present and justify their recommendations. The client gets the full benefit of media thinking right on the spot, and with the assurance every option and every detail has been covered.

Most important of all, media agencies are fully aware they must operate in a way that assures a holistic approach to the marketing process. Creative, media and strategic account planning must all be seated at the table from the outset-each bringing its ideas and expertise to improving the advertisers' business results.

Integration is not the sole jurisdiction of the full-service agency. Media agencies work hand-in-glove with all of a client's marketing partners. Because independent media services agencies take full responsibility for participating in this communication process, they are committed to working seamlessly with a client's creative and marketing resources. It is not an option but a requirement.

In my experience, media agencies sit at more meetings and work in greater harmony with creative people than ever before. Everyone recognizes the need to work in tandem right from the beginning, throughout the communication process, down to the final measurement phase. We modify our media execution as new creative or media ideas come to light and we adjust our media strategy as new developments occur in the marketplace.

We are full partners with our clients and all of their marketing and advertising disciplines. And now that the media profession has been elevated to a higher level, we willingly carry the full weight of responsibility for our performance and contribution to the success of a client's business.

Michael D. Drexler is the New York-based CEO of Optimedia International's Optimedia USA unit. Optimedia International is part of Zenith Optimedia Group, co-owned by Publicis Groupe and Cordiant Communications Group.

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