The Next Frontier: Media Reviews

The media landscape was once relatively free of search consultants. But no more.

“For us, as far as I’m concerned, they’re a fact of life,” says Universal McCann chairman and CEO Robin Kent. Four of the last 10 reviews in which UM took part last year were run by consultants. “It’s definitely a growing trend,” says Kent.

According to Adweek reports, seven of the eight major media reviews held between January and June were run by consultants. By comparison, just two of 12 were run by consultants during the same period last year. Outside the U.S., Kent says, consultants have long played a role in media reviews.

Charlie Rutman, president of Carat USA, says consultants are playing a greater role as the market has become more sophisticated and complex. With more choices, more alternatives, more media consolidations and new technologies and research sources, clients are calling on consultants with greater frequency, he says. Of the 10 reviews Carat was involved in during the past year, seven involved consultants (70 percent), compared with about 40 percent in 2001. Consultants’ involvement tends to take the emotion and politics out of the contests and keeps them on track, he says.

While many search consultants, including Roth Associates in New York, Pile & Co. in Boston and Jones Lundin Beals in Chicago, have entered the media world, Select Resources International in Los Angeles has made a firm commitment to the market with its hire of media executive John O’Connor. Because many consultancies are just entering the fray, most work with media execs on an ad hoc basis, but SRI hired the TBS, PWA Media and Carat alumnus in September to pursue media-only accounts.

“We’re having good success,” says Catherine Bension, president of SRI, which is currently overseeing Veritas Software’s $20 million media review. “I always believed that this is an opportunity that we really needed to seize.”

While many media-agency execs share the same gripes about consultants as their counterparts at general shops, others say having consultants in their midst gives marketers an added level of comfort that reviews are being handled correctly.

“Some clients choose not to believe that they understand the business well enough to be the best judges of it,” says a source. “A smart client doesn’t need a consultant,” adds the source, arguing that corporate paranoia is sparking the surge. “They could really do this themselves.”

Oliver Maletz, svp/business development director at UM, says consultants play a valuable role but need to standardize the request-for-information stage. After all, much of the information being sought, such as an agency’s structure and number of staffers and offices, is fairly basic.

“Standardizing the process smartly would make it significantly more efficient,” says Maletz. “Clients are looking for solutions, for people, chemistry, innovation and smarts—not dots on a map. We shouldn’t be wasting time on refiguring the same information into new formats and nuances with every pitch. We should be spending our time focusing on the advertiser’s issues and business problems.”