Media Chiefs to Ad Folks: We've Split, Get Over It

Rebundling Talks Shot Down at Well-Attended, Upbeat 4As Conference

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ORLANDO, Fla. ( -- The strong message from media agencies to their creative siblings that want to fold them back inside the ad shops: Back off.

Top media-agency executives who assembled in droves last week for the American Association of Advertising Agencies annual media conference firmly rebutted the ad agencies' dream of rebundling the media shops they spun off in the late 1990s.

Photo: Gerardo Mora
Publicis Groupe Media CEO Jack Klues

It was a clear and heartfelt response to bleating ad shops, which have maintained that media agencies should be reintegrated. The ad shops have admitted, publicly as well as privately, that they find themselves starved of strategic media insight in a chaotic media environment that's threatening to engulf their core product -- the 30-second spot -- in a slough of irrelevance.

Shot across the bow
While all the media chiefs acknowledged the importance of collaborating closely with their creative brethren, most of the media executives who spoke at the conference made a point of firing a shot across the ad agencies' bows -- seemingly with the aim of quelling the recent spate of 'bring-planning-back' PR pushes by ad shops.

In a panel discussion with media bigs from all the major ad-agency holding companies, Publicis Groupe Media CEO Jack Klues dismissed the notion of a return to "the full-service model of 1980."

"The conversation about rebundling doesn't make much sense to me," said Mr. Klues, whose reports include Starcom, MediaVest and ZenithOptimedia. "You're not going to see us become the media department of a full-service agency."

Responding to the recent announcements of ad agencies that said they're hiring their own media planners, Charlie Rutman, CEO of Havas' MPG North America, joked: "We're going to announce tomorrow that we're hiring a creative director."

Size of the event
Irwin Gotlieb, CEO of WPP Group's media arm Group M, used the conference itself as evidence of his business's maturity and the excitement surrounding it. "Look at how the scale of this function compares to the scale of the ad agency event," he said. The 4As Media Conference drew 1,442 visitors, whereas the 4As annual ad agency management conference has drawn around 350 people in recent years.

Overall, this conference was remarkably optimistic, marked on one hand by agencies' excitement about their growing dominance in shaping strategy and, on the other, by a healthy dose of confusion about the rapidly changing media landscape. All sectors of the business -- sellers, buyers, planners, and research companies -- were abuzz with the intense growth of consumer-created media like blogs and social networks.

One of the best examples of that new content is Current TV, whose chairman, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, delivered the conference's keynote address. However, in a much-talked-about move that many described as alternately puzzling and uplifting, he described an upcoming communications campaign about global warming -- complete with a sales pitch for matching media dollars.

The direct challenge
The lecture on climate change wasn't the only serious moment. Four As media-policy chair Jean Pool touched on some of the major problems facing mass media -- namely, insufficient resources with which to measure its audience -- and challenged media sellers to provide commercial ratings.

The lack of detailed, minute-by-minute data -- which, she said, wouldn't yield dramatically different results from the current standard of program averages -- is causing many marketers to flee to highly measurable digital media. "The advertiser gets what's being delivered there," she said in an opening address that also attacked clutter and fragmentation issues. "Not so with traditional media."

Mr. Gotlieb and company, while generally optimistic, framed the direct challenge to their business: commoditization. "We've all gotten much better at what we do," said Mr. Gotlieb, whose company includes MindShare and Mediaedge:cia. "We fight ourselves into a near draw in many cases and we've inadvertently commoditized ourselves."

Mr. Klues suggested a possible remedy: pushing for compensation agreements tied to results and business outcomes. "We have to have skin in the game," he said.

Mr. Klues also expressed frustration at the intra-holding company turf wars over strategic leadership. "Clients are tired of that infighting over which agency will run communications planning," he said.

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