So it’s nearly three months into the new job.
When I left a creative agency and joined a media one.
Opinion from peers was divided on the subject. Basically, ‘wow great gig’ to ‘what on earth are you doing’.
I thought I knew what I was doing. I was finding that the strategy role bit was increasingly being assumed by the media folks.
Not just the overall ‘grand strategy’ the comms planning, establishing the role for comms etc, which I always have felt is the planner’s core discipline (more so than brand strategy, you know a new brand proposition, or shifting brand scores, which as the IPA Databank has shown, is never as effective as looking to address hard business targets) and have never wanted to surrender.
Also the ‘ad tweaking bit’. I was finding the role of creative agencies was getting less and less around the ‘ideas’ and more and more what it looked like, or even ‘production led’. Even worse, the agency I was in was led by people who didn’t see this as a problem, thought ‘brand’ (as in guidelines) was the answer and question to everything (or big data) and quite liked just noodling around with what stuff looked like - and kerning the typeface.
Much of that was driven by experience, they weren’t bad people. It’s just their experience was mostly in design agencies, not so called ‘ad agencies’. Give a man a hammer and all he sees is a nail and so to speak. Even worse, social media was a ‘thing’ as opposed to, at best a channel that rarely delivers scale, or something that permeates today’s world.
While my OPINION thought of the media agencies I’ve worked with is that they might have the gig, they have the instruments, but they sure as hell can’t knock the tune together. Strategy is like music, like invention. It’s as much how it feels, how it excites you, constant chipping away at a problem. It’s not just a to b to c. It takes instinct and a certain kind of appreciation for certain stuff.
So, I saw a chance to do what I want to do and make a mark (I’m not saying I’m good but I can claim I think I know what good looks like!)
Couple that with the chance to work again with one of the most formidable account men I’ve ever worked with, who runs where I now work. Well, why the hell not?
So how is it turning out? Really well thankfully.
My expectations before I started, as is the case with all people, were very much based on my frame of reference at the time.
Now I’ve worked with media agencies in London as well as Manchester ones.
As a general rule, I’ve found the London ones to be quite luvvy. The unfortunate generalisation of media agency girls who look a lot better than they think has seemed a true observation. London agencies can also be very snobbish about Northern folk and anyone not from a big, famous London agency.
The Manchester folks have always seemed friendlier and more down to earth.
But in both cases, I always found them to be the most territorial. It’s understandable, in world of paid owned and earned, when you’ve made your money from paid, you’re bound to protect your livelihood – and try to steal share from others. So in both cases, as mentioned, I’ve seen media folks winning battle to more comms and strategy, more digital execution and more social. In short, they’ve tried to own more of the media to get paid a fee for thinking rather than buying.
I also noted that they had the art of client relationships really sown up – mostly by being very charming, very ‘meeja’ and, because they invoice the most, they always get lots of attention.
My office isn’t really like that. I’m not saying were unattractive, or not charming. We just don’t operate through politics, being cool or any of that. Because politicians always get found out and there’s always someone prettier.
Both my offices, in London and Manchester, genuinely care, are genuinely nice and make clients feel special by going the extra mile. Which means client relationships are built on trust.
And that open approach means there isn’t the jostling with other organisations. There is a love of ideas and creativity, in fact, our own analysis has uncovered that media innovation pays back disproportionally just like ‘creative innovation’.
We push it, we defend our patch, but that patch never stretches outside of comms planning or media planning and buying. It means we work hard of building great objectives, we work had at creating new canvases for creative agencies to paint over. But it works best when we work together.
Personally, I’ve also found out why some media folks don’t push it. Media is just as complicated as navigated the thickets of TV production, casting or selling a challenging creative idea to a risk averse client. Getting the ratings, the coverage and the quality of TV is bloody complex for example. When many clients are happy to be sold TV, it’s sorely tempting to just sell TV, because sorting a 30 second campaign is hard enough.
So I admire my lot, because they don’t accept good. They push it.
I’ve also found that the demands of account planning are pretty much the same as being a strategist in a media agency. Find the problem, use insight to help solve it, inject magic along the way. It’s just the output is different. And some of the people that work at PHD are far cleverer than I and would equally smash it as account planners.
One final thing. I hate proprietary planning processes. I dies a death of thousand cuts doing Disruption and Media Arts (Media Arts is either comms planning made rubbish, or media planning done by people who don’t know what they’re doing by the way). But I’ve found one I actually like!!
PHD worldwide used Source. It’s not just a process, it’s an actual tool. Now, the process isn’t rocket science, brief interrogation, comms objective, killer insight, thought leader (proposition). So it doesn’t cloud things with unproven philosophy. In fact, quite the opposite, it pulls in the best of behavioural economics, Ehrenberg Bass and years and years of internal case studies to throw up stimulus as you go along. And it naturally helps you choose a media plan based on your strategy. It doesn’t replace thinking; it provides hooks to hang it on and stimulus to help along the way.
One final observation, it’s fun watching creative agencies from the other side. Just as I will hate boys going out with my daughter when she gets older, because I’ve been them and I know what they’re thinking, I know what the creative folks are doing before they do. Which means, I hope, that I’m okay to deal with, because I know what it’s like. Of course, when you see holes in their thinking, it’s a struggle to not put your foot in it, but having been in someone’s shoes really helps you respect their views and efforts.