Different Paths But One Idea: Reclaim Media Strategy

Ever since many general ad agencies saw their media capabilities “unbundled” to specialists, they’ve wanted to reclaim the discipline. But with the proliferation of new consumer touch points and a solid consensus that media strategy is essential to the development of the best ideas, that desire has become a necessity.

Naturally, how each agency rebuilds its media capability varies from shop to shop. Euro RSCG, for instance, employs an executive creative director of media who liaises between the Havas shop and its sister media agencies. JWT has a communications planning department that works with the creative team and WPP Group media shops. And, at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, media planners now team with account planners under a unified strategy department.

Today, Young & Rubicam will plant a media strategist in its creative department as Paul Hindle, a former director of strategic planning at OMD, joins in the new role of director of communications planning. Hindle, who will also work closely with account planners and media colleagues at sibling WPP shops like Mediaedge:cia, will report to Gary Goldsmith, chief creative officer for North America.

“The business has changed, and it’s essential for media to be a key part of what drives the ideas,” said Goldsmith, who mulled three candidates for the post and chose Hindle as much for his skills as his ability to articulate the need for creative and media to work hand in hand. “I think he can create a lot of change and take this out and evangelize this.”

And while being part of the creative department won’t guarantee success, “it’s good for a media strategist to be walking the halls amongst the creatives because he’s kind of an unknown, exotic species,” said Arthur Anderson of Morgan Anderson Consulting in New York. “You can read all you want to in terms of media strategy, but in talking to somebody, sparks can fly.” He added: “It’s important that people communicate and they learn from one another.”

Certainly, shops that kept media in house, such as Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Fallon, Deutsch and GSD&M, have benefitted from such closeness.

Regardless of the approach, most shops are trying to get to the same place: work that triggers the question, “Is that a media idea or a creative idea?” Indeed, sometimes the mode of expression is the creative idea, such as when CP+B displayed Mini Coopers atop Ford Excursion SUVs.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘creative brief’ anymore,” said Peter Gardiner, chief media officer at Deutsch in New York. “Often times there’s a fair amount of media direction and information involved. Media is now at the front of the creative process, something that has evolved in the last four years. We’re even starting to work with the creative department on accounts where we don’t even have the media to help them think of the right channels to reach consumers.”

Five years ago, Goodby’s media group didn’t participate in creative-only pitches, said John Thorpe, associate partner and director of planning. Now, separation is unthinkable because the task is “not just identifying opportunities, but creative opportunities. In theory, there is no reason why someone like OMD could not say what we’re supposed to do,” Thorpe said, adding, “Allocation of media, absent that conversation, is nuts.”

At first, Hindle, 42, was slightly skeptical about Y&R—particularly since last year he had been approached by a creative shop only to be offered what amounted to a “media mascot” role. He wanted to make sure that Goldsmith was up for genuine change since “it’s going to be a bit of walking across broken glass to get there.” Still, he said, “I’m there to build a bridge.”