After years of talk about "media neutrality" and emphasis on the need to develop cross- disciplines with an air of eventuality, the future role of the media agency arrived with a sudden gale-force wind with the decision by Procter & Gamble to split its North American communications planning account between Starcom and Carat. As it revolutionized the industry so many years ago by spurring the ad industry to "unbundle" media from creative, the packaged-goods marketer shook up the media world yet again.
And not a moment too soon.
By reviewing its estimated $4 billion U.S. marketing communications planning account, P&G took the relatively unorthodox steps of upgrading media planning to communications planning and unbundling it from media buying as well as creative. In so doing, P&G has delivered a much-needed wake-up call to the industry.
Although the winds of change have begun to blow, it takes an entity with the clout of a P&G or a Unilever to put the industry on notice.
Never before was it so crucial for media agencies to look at themselves and recognize the changing nature of the business. Collaboration is the ultimate name of the game in this new world, where great creative and inventive ideas can—indeed, must—come from anywhere. This goes for creative agencies and media shops, even clients. Technology, whether in the various forms of DVRs or wireless-communications tools, and culture are significantly altering the environment in which consumers experience marketing messages.
In this environment, public relations, viral marketing, interactive and traditional advertising are all felt at the same time by consumers. Yet, at most shops, expansive chasms between such disciplines remain.
This has led to an industry in which creative is largely starved of great media partnerships. In turn, media is largely starved of great creative partnerships, primarily due to the strict siloed state of agency disciplines. Too often, media agencies take the approach of retro-fitting themselves by cobbling together disparate resources from within themselves and from their holding companies and presenting the package as "instant media neutrality." All the while, the core of the organization is the same.
Media neutrality cannot be achieved through such patent ad hoc efforts. It can be accomplished only through a long-term and total philosophical and structural commitment. That commitment starts with a redefinition of media: the involvement of anything and anybody you need to get a solution to market in the most powerful way.
Concretely, the process begins not with one single marketing function but with total communications planning—or, as we call it, "brand exposure planning," which can start with any relevant contact point and in any context.
In a sense, the media industry is undergoing a process similar to the one that hit the U.S. automotive industry, when competition from Japan led Detroit to abandon cherished ways of making cars. The old paradigm was based on the conveyer belt, where various parts plodded down the line until completion. In car making as in marketing and advertising, such a process is unnecessarily linear, slow and uninspiring, and leads to poor quality control. When the Japanese car companies introduced the idea of developing and assembling cars in teams, the world changed.
Too many in our industry are stuck in the Model-T Ford mode of production. But changes are clearly on the way. Aside from P&G's call to arms, it's imperative that other catalysts emerge to chart a new course. I was able to witness potential fomenters firsthand as both a founding president of the Media Lions jury at Cannes and as an inaugural judge of the Content & Contact awards at the Clios this year.
The winner of the Grand Clio in Content & Contact was Sega's "Beta-7" ESPN NFL videogame campaign. The issue was, How do you tap into the aficionado mind-set of the early-adopter gamer? What the award's winner, Wieden + Kennedy in New York, did was work closely with Chelsea Productions, the guys who became famous for The Blair Witch Project. Together, they ran a five-month campaign that presented a complete world-within-a-world of blogs, Web sites, viral videos, voicemails, classified ads, stunts, chat rooms! The campaign incorporated viral media with traditional forms of print, TV, out-of-home—with each function informing the other, all disciplines working in collaboration.
It all boils down to this: We must not forget that in any form of communication, the way you say something is as important as what you say. To truly achieve this, we must tear the discipline walls down, collapse the silos. With partner clients, we must accept our duty to ensure that all the essential parts are assembled as one team. In the future, that will be the key to success.
And the future is now.