27 February 2010

Should ad agencies and media agencies re-bundle?

This coming week in San Francisco the 4A's will combine two traditionally separate conferences into one event.

The first of the two pieces is the annual leadership conference, formerly the "management" conference, which they've been holding since 1917. The second is the media conference which dates back to the mid-1990s. The conference agenda is here. You can read a bit more in this NYTimes.com column by Stuart Elliott.

A bit of history is in order

What's missing from the Times piece is the observation that the 4A's media conference started right around the same time that ad agencies spun off their media departments into separate companies such as Starcom and Universal McCann. Under the rules of Ye Olde Marketing such spin-offs were possible because so much of the work was in TV or Radio commercials or print advertising. The ad agency and the media agency could work in silos because both processes ended up with a tape being sent to the networks.

Obviously that's not the case anymore. Tom Carroll, outgoing chairman of the 4A's and President-CEO of TBWA, said: "The idea of having separate conferences just isn’t reflective of the realities of the business today. It’s better to get everyone in one room because we all have the same issues and should be working together on them."

There's an elephant in that "one room"

Should ad agencies and media agencies re-bundle? It would be fun if someone asked the question this week in San Francisco. In the unlikely event someone did ask, the question probably wouldn't attract much discussion. There are too many egos and P&Ls at stake, and in fairness, perhaps a few client conflicts as well.

It's too bad. The industry needs this kind of discussion. We have seen at our shop the benefit of having media planning within the agency for some clients even when buying is done elsewhere. Given some of my recent experiences with channel-neutral planning (here and here) it seems impossible to create advertising for any medium in a silo separated from media strategy.

Jumping from silo to silo

One other interesting story to watch will be that of Nick Brien, listed on the conference agenda as the head of IPG's Mediabrands, the company that includes Universal McCann and Initiative Media. His title on the conference agenda is ironic, because just last month he was named CEO of...



  1. An idea can come from anywhere - and the richest experiences are created by collaboration, not territorial jurisdiction.

  2. to get the most impact is an easy formula : the right message in the right place and at the right moment (especially in the digital area). Period. So the question of gathering m├ędia and ad in the same room is trivial :) @digitalizer

  3. Dear Still Clickin':

    I often post about the right message in the right place at the right moment. "Moments" is a sacred concept of channel planning where I work. For the sake of this formula it is absolutely imperative to get media and ad in the same room. Creative can drive media and media can drive creative. This goes well beyond TV and digital and encompasses retail as well. Thanks for commenting and please keep comin' back!


  4. Dear Darren:

    I agree. I'm not sure if you mean "we should be able to collaborate regardless of whether ad and media agencies are separate from one another" OR "collaboration is easier if the two agencies are combined into one." I've seen it work both ways.


  5. Not only do we need to get media and creative back together, we need to get digital into that combined entity as well

  6. Fred: Yes, I agree, and will add this perspective.

    Every agency should have four basic capabilities: Creative, Strategy (or planning), Media and Account Management. (My agency has a fifth, Data Analysis.)

    Different agencies have different disciplines, however. Very traditional ad agencies focus on advertising in TV and other familiar media, while digital agencies focus on digital and retail agencies focus on retail.

    All of these agencies must still have the basic capabilities listed above. These are necessary to any task of communication. The next question is what tasks of communication do you want to be able to offer. (My agency offers all of them except public relations.)

    That said, I agree with your comment that digital must be part of almost any agency's range of services today.