Who Will Follow P&G Into Communications Planning?

Almost three and a half years separated the first communications planning review from the second. The third is likely to arrive much quicker.

Procter & Gamble’s decision two weeks ago to review its $2.5 billion North American media planning account signals that the urge to merge all consumer touch points in media strategy is reaching critical mass, said media and ad agency executives. They contend that P&G and rival Unilever—which instituted its “communications channel planning” with an $800 million U.S. media consolidation at WPP Group’s MindShare in 2000—won’t be alone for long.

Esther Franklin, director of consumer context planning for Publicis Groupe’s Starcom in Chicago, said that in the past few months, “the media planning and strategy teams of [Starcom] clients like Disney and Allstate are saying, ‘We want you to get involved, to be part of our process, so what do we need to do to get that started?’

“The marketplace is so dynamic right now, there’s no way any one person or team can stay on top of all that growth and evolution,” she added. “With dollars tight and competition getting more fierce, that seems to be the new space people are looking toward to get some answers.”

P&G has invited the two planning shops on its roster, Starcom MediaVest Group and Grey Global Group’s MediaCom, along with other unidentified agencies, to pitch the business in what the client has termed a “redesign” of its media planning partners into “communication planning agencies.”

But while fusing disparate marketing elements into a whole greater than the sum of its parts is “the Holy Grail of marketing,” it’s also “easier said than done,” said Paul Woolmington, CEO of MDC Partners’ media planning shop, Media Kitchen. “It’s very difficult to retrofit neutrality,” he added, noting that while Media Kitchen and most other media shops have various mechanisms to track effectiveness, no “fusion research” yet exists to compare media channels.

The trend “is not on the same pace as brand or global [marketing strategies] are,” said John Dooner, CEO of Interpublic Group’s McCann WorldGroup and a longtime advocate of what he calls “total communications.” “If [acceptance of] brand advertising is at 97 percent and global is at 85 percent, then maybe total communications probably hasn’t reached 20 percent. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t key to the future—it is.”

By any name, the approach gives media agencies considerably more influence over their clients’ overall strategy than they have ever enjoyed. In a communications channel system, the media shop crafts a plan that allocates budget resources to every channel—PR, promotions, events, direct marketing and so on—including paid media outlets. Shops also advise the client on whether each medium is being used to maximum effect.

“Traditional media won’t lose out on this, but we’re entering an even more complex market, and they’ll be evaluated against PR, promotions and direct marketing,” predicted Woolmington.

Clients are using media shops to fulfill a new need, said Cheryl Idell, evp of media and marketing planning at 20th Century Fox. “Brand people at the advertisers are realizing that they can use an outside resource to handle this,” explained Idell, the former chief strategist at Initiative who helped train Unilever’s marketing staff in communications channel planning. “Since that resource doesn’t exist right now, the media agency is the closest thing to it.”