COMMENT: The coming media battle will be brilliant for the Australian communications industry

If the new edition of AdNews is anything to go by, then media planning is going to be a key battleground for 2009.

The magazine’s front page story features the revelation that creative agency Host is getting into media. And just as interesting is the magazine’s profile inside of the creative agency Three Drunk Monkeys, who also reveal plans to move into media strategy.

This comes just weeks after Mumbrella revealed that the Photon Group has ambitions to get into media planning /buying through its strategy shop Bellamy Hayden.

I also know of at least one media metrics organisation that is contemplating a move into the space.

And that’s before we even contemplate the long-awaited launch of Carat’s second string media agency Vizeum, or the previously-hinted-at new OMD-aligned agency in Melbourne.

And creative agency BMF has already moved in. Last year it quietly started doing the work for its creative client Dairy Farmers.

And while established media agencies may find this a little threatening, this could actually turn out be an entirely good thing for the industry, as it may help persuade clients to pay for a badly under-rated part of the offering.

Too often, the way that media agencies have been remunerated has tended, to a lesser or greater extent, to be based on doing the buying, and throwing in the planning and strategy for free.

That may work when interest rates are high and millions of dollars of client money are passing through agency bank accounts. But with the Reserve Bank of Australia widely expected to deliver another rate cut tomorrow – possibly down to around 3% – and spends soon being slashed anyway, there’s not much money to be made there.

But increasingly, the argument is moving towards the need for a full service approach, with creative and media planning together under one roof.

That’s why even big hitters like Commonwealth Bank ‘s chief marketing officer Mark Buckman contemplated giving his media to BMF before (mostly) sticking with Ikon last year. And why Host owner Anthony Freedman is doing the same thing with his Host offshoot Bring, which has BankWest as its founding client.

(Indeed, Host really must be going the whole hog for full service. Its press release announced the official launch day for Bring was February 1. Which was yesterday, a Sunday.)

And if media planning is genuinely separated from media planning, then two things will happen. Clients will come to recognise (and see the benefits of) its value. And they will start paying for it, wherever it sits, separate to the buying. The smart ones already are.

Once media planning and strategy is properly valued, it will mean that Australia’s traditional media agencies will perhaps be able to start hiring more of the clever strategic people who are currently too rare (with the exceptions being OMD’s Rob Pyne, PHD’s Mark Holden and just a couple of others ) into their businesses. Indeed, they’ll have to.

With luck that will kick start a virtuous circle as good media strategy and planning starts to add demonstrable value.

And in cases where the media brains sit in the creative agencies, it will also create a new dynamic for the specialist communication strategy shops too. Take Naked’s fake girl-in-jacket video fuss for example. At least part of the reason they were busted early on was that the execution wasn’t good enough. If a traditional agency can come up with a good idea, and execute it through all the channels, then full service will start giving itself a good name.

The bizarre thing is that this seems to be happening despite the coming downturn. But regardless, it feels like a bloody good thing.


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