Who's in Charge of Strategy?

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“I don’t have anyone in my agency who can ‘talk media’ to our media agency counterpart.”

That’s what the head of a top ad agency said to me recently.

“And we haven’t met anyone from our media agency that seems to understand how creative strategies are developed.”

As a result, he explained to me, both agencies had lost out in a series of new-business competitions that he thought they should have won; their thinking and executions were simply not integrated enough to impress the prospective clients.

What I found in working with this ad agency and its media agency counterpart (both owned by the same holding company, by the way) was that:

Account planners at the ad agency were almost exclusively involved in creative strategy development;

Media planners at the media agency were similarly focused on media strategy; and

Neither group was familiar enough with the other’s world to bridge the gap.

As someone who strived for years to unbundle media from ad agencies, I found this creative/media disconnect unsettling. Our media agency always strived to develop seamless strategies with our ad agency partners. In today’s world of multiplying marketing platforms, this seems to me to be even more important.

So, while there was certainly an assignment for me in working with both agencies as a surrogate ad/marketing/media strategist, I wonder if it is possible to regain the organic strategic partnership of the traditional ad agency within an unbundled advertising/media universe.

Perhaps a recent survey of advertisers conducted by management consultancy Gilbert Tarney Farley offers a clue:

“Clients seem to be more interested in talking to the media planner than the account planner these days.”

On the other hand, Don Gilbert also told me that:

“Many clients are clamoring for integrated strategies but have little or no confidence that their agencies can do it properly.”

While not surprising given the creative/media disconnect that I experienced, this unintended consequence of unbundling media and advertising could be easily rectified, I think, by re-bundling media planners back into ad agencies.

Media strategists and account planners working together under the same agency roof could constitute a new breed of super-planners who could provide the unified brand vision and messages required by advertisers to communicate across traditional and an increasing number of nontraditional and new marketing platforms. And advertising might thereby regain its role as a strategic partner to clients rather than just another vendor.

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Gene DeWitt is chairman of DeWitt Media Options.

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