Should agencies return to a full service model?

Nick CleaverOur current method of separating creative and media is more expensive and less effective, leaving us with the worst of both worlds, argues 303Lowe CEO Nick Cleaver. Is it time to bring media and creative back together?

Who ever actually proved that separating media and creative services was a good idea; that it represented a better more effective model; one that could deliver better value outcomes?

The simple truth is no one.

The separation of the disciplines was a response by the holding companies to protect margins as the market deregulated and the media commission system was abandoned.

Clients were persuaded that a greater level of transparency and accountability was delivered through an unbundled arrangement. They were offered what appeared to be lower planning and buying fees to justify the separation and resource based fees became the popular means to remunerate creative agencies.

The belief was that it made sound financial sense and it was delivering a better value outcome. All appeared to be fine and dandy.

However, the reality is quite different. It’s questionable whether unbundling ever really lowered fees, but it’s certain that it has contributed enormously to weaker and less effective campaign outcomes (not to mention the increased time clients now spend coordinating competing agencies).

The real cost of the separation is a substantially lower return on a clients advertising investment. This is primarily because media and creative thinking too often takes place in isolation of one another and involves an enormous duplication of effort for highly compromised outcomes.

All too often creative and media agencies are involved in a turf war for strategic and creative leadership of the account. Both agencies embark on a strategy process that, rather than offering distinct communication and brand strategy perspectives, actually blur into a consumer insight war where one agency claims primacy over the other.

This clamour for the killer consumer insight can involve the client in two parallel strategic processes that, rather than dovetailing cohesively, often sees a duplication of resources, time and effort for a disjointed outcome.

This dual strategic process is often conducted concurrently and in isolation. The creative agency works in the absence of a communication insight, and the media agency with a scant knowledge of the brand proposition or creative idea. Everyone loses.

At its worst and most petty, the mutual agency rivalry and distrust can result in the media agency presenting publisher-led content ideas that require little or no creative agency involvement (a fine way to reduce their relevance and worth!). Or we see the creative agency presenting ideas in media channels that may not offer the best opportunity for consumer impact or engagement.

Media-led content ideas can look very enticing on paper. There’s the draw card of a raft of channels, often including television with the very attractive proposition of minimal production costs.

Alongside the attractive numbers (“we will be reaching millions of people”) and the seductive ease of creating the executions, (“oh the station will take care of that”), it’s all too easy to lose sight of whether the actual content is compelling and whether it’s going to engagingly present the brand message. Indeed the brand message can get lost in a blancmange of boring irrelevant content.

Of course an increasing number of clients are beginning to question the actual cost of the separation. The duplicate time consuming processes, the effort involved in managing two agencies (or more), liaising with two account teams; two sets of planners and all the time endeavouring to bring the thinking together into one effective campaign solution.

Not only are clients beginning to question the sense of this dysfunctional structure, they’re beginning to realise it doesn’t have to be this way and that there are some agencies offering a bundled offering (yes 303Lowe is one of them).

Bringing it all together they enjoy the benefits of one team, one process, one cohesive strategy and one genuine campaign idea. Creative ideas are stronger when they are inspired by media insights and vice versa.

I’m not suggesting media specialist agencies are about to disappear or that they don’t do a very professional job for their clients, but I am firmly saying the separation compromises outcomes no matter how good the participants.

The pendulum is beginning to swing back towards agencies that can offer clients a holistic approach. The façade of separating two disciplines that should live together is just beginning to show signs of fatigue. The amount of client dissatisfaction with the system is going to increase as they begin to discover there is a smarter way of delivering more effective outcomes.

The media landscape is going to change again, and it’s long overdue.

Nick Cleaver is chief executive officer of 303Lowe


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