Getting from A to Z a circuitous route

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As consolidation among media companies continues, media buying agencies are taking diverse approaches to prepare for more complex cross-platform deals coming their way.

Some agencies have formed internal committees, theoretically aimed at steering big media deals through appropriate channels and increasing efficiency. Others are farming out the elements of uber-deals to various offices scattered across the U.S., and some shops boast specialists who can handle a complex multilevel media deal from a single desk.

The moves underscore the urgent need for agencies to improve their internal communication and teamwork to maximize opportunities in deals involving media giants like AOL Time Warner, News Corp. and Viacom. Media observers expect more deals to emerge soon involving multiple media platforms. AOL Time Warner seems to be on a tear in this area. In just the last month, it has announced a multiyear cross-media deal with WorldCom encompassing media brands including Time Inc. publications, Turner Broadcasting System and Time Warner Cable; and before that, AOL Time Warner unveiled a $100 million, three-year arrangement with Royal Philips Electronics.

Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann, New York, earlier this year announced the formation of the UM Cross Media Council, which will handle cross-platform media deals. Included in the council are executives from various planning and buying groups within Universal Mc-Cann. They include such areas as communication planning, national broadcast and programming, local broadcast, strategic print services, outdoor and interactive, ethnic marketing, and direct response. The agency has not revealed specific mega-deals being handled by the cross-platform council.

Bcom3 Group's MediaVest Worldwide, New York, has formed no such committee, because CEO Donna Salvatore is skeptical of any such group of media experts detached from the daily life of a specific account. Her strategy is to place the best team, built of media specialists and account team members, into such negotiations.

"I don't understand how you can take a stranger and get them up to speed on client objectives" to negotiate a cross-platform deal, she says. "The best people to negotiate a cross-platform deal are those who are intimately involved in the client's business day to day. We do not lay it off on a different group."

A $300 million media deal MediaVest recently negotiated between client Procter & Gamble Co. and Viacom incorporated media, programming, research and promotion on network, cable, syndication and online media. It made little sense for MediaVest to bring in a negotiating team that may have been media savvy but that didn't know the client's specific brand objectives, says Ms. Salvatore.

At Mediasmith, San Francisco, many of the 20 staffers are individually capable of handling a variety of media proposals coming in for such clients as technology hardware marketer Roxio, says President Dave Smith. "We've always followed an integrated media-planning approach. The same planners do interactive as traditional media," Mr. Smith says. "It's very easy for us to talk with a big entity to do a cross-media deal. Our person is empowered to look at all the media and handle the budgets."

The Mediasmith staffer who best knows the client's needs and objectives is the one negotiating the cross-platform deal, Mr. Smith says. Deals can happen faster when each team member is prepared to negotiate, he says. "With some of the bigger media agencies, they have it all in different silos. You have to pull together some kind of a committee situation to evaluate all these deals," he says. "We're a little more nimble in taking on deals like these."

Adam Gerber, director of media strategy at the Digital Edge division of WPP Group's The Media Edge, New York, scoffs at the idea of having a standalone unit created to negotiate media megadeals on behalf of an agency's entire client roster. A single unit often can create a scenario of two agencies, "two groups developing strategy and implementation," he says. That approach never benefits the client, he says.

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