Why planning must move if agencies and advertisers are to heal


Over the last week, there have been a couple of articles that have reached the trade press in relation to the problems that have arisen for advertisers since the unbundling of creative and media first began in the  late 80’s,early 90’s. 

Keith Reinhard, Chairman of DDB, stated in a recent Business Insider interview[1], that from a strategic perspective, agencies are no longer delivering the best ideas for advertisers. He argued that the gap between creative and media is now so wide that a fully integrated strategy is hard to come by.

At the tactical end, ever since the studies commissioned by the U.S. Association of National Advertisers (ANA) on transparency were published last summer, plenty of digital ink has been spilled on the breakdown in trust between advertisers and agencies. Much of this has been focused on stewardship of media budgets and the lack of transparency in the supply chain. In fact, a recent survey from ID Comms[2] highlighted this ever-widening gap, with agencies and advertisers each pointing the finger at the other for the deterioration in this critical relationship.

In fact, it feels as though this relationship – so central to producing and targeting great advertising – needs a fundamental reboot. For trust to be regained, for advertisers and agencies to work in partnership once more, to get back to the days when advertising was considered a more noble profession – something’s got to give.

As media buying became increasingly commoditized in the noughties, it’s understandable that agencies began to treat this function differently from the rest of the advertising ecosystem, and to separate it out accordingly. Trading in spots and dots is far more binary and rightly shouldn’t get in the way of the creative process.

“The issue as I see it however, lies with the decision all those years ago, to move planning with media buying and separate that function from the creative process; although at the time the argument to keep planning with buying is undeniable. The effect of this realignment today is that the planning process risks being influenced by the trading deals themselves,increasingly being brokered by the media agency, rather than the brand communication strategy itself… a potentially significant conflict of interest.’  Alan Rutherford 

This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the digital supplier market – tech and content – where the K2 study for the ANA last year revealed that smaller vendors may feel forced to commit to agency group trading deals to stand any hope of getting on a media plan for the largest agencies. How does that sit with independent planning and working in the advertisers’ best interests, if a planner is encouraged only to use approved vendors or potentially have budgets realigned to maximize trading deals? Agency holding groups enjoy such a strong position in the market that many suppliers worry that direct relationships with the advertiser will only bite the hand that feeds them. So, they are compelled to do agency trading deals to secure revenue.

So where do we go from here?

We fully accept that the age of the full-service agency is no longer appropriate in many markets, as media agencies have become trading behemoths and operate in a very different way. And yet the argument can and should be made that the planning function should be more closely aligned to the creative ideation process in order to deliver more integrated and independent strategies. This is the best way to ensure that planning can be the force to deliver brand objectives without any taint of other, competing interests.