Creative, Account Service or Media: Who rules in the Agency?

By BKV in Media Strategy on May 4th, 2011

When I was a boy in the ‘50s and ‘60s, my father was vice president of an ad agency. He practiced his presentation skills with an 8-year-old me as his audience. I listened to dog food presentations and pitches for soup, canned vegetables and other interesting products. His friends were all in advertising, too. Fascinated, I would hang around and eavesdrop on their conversations. It was logical that I would follow him into the business. I studied it in college and have worked for agencies ever since.


I’ve always been interested in the evolution of the business and how the focus of agencies has changed over the years. My father worked for big name agencies that, with the exception of Leo Burnett, have all been bought by holding companies and/or merged out of existence. I remember him telling me about Interpublic founder Marion Harper, who was laughed at when he said one holding company could own competing agencies with competing accounts. Back in the ‘60s, my father’s friends thought clients would never stand for it. Instead, they embraced it! Some companies today keep their multiple brands within an agency group that also works for their competitors. For that reason, I don’t believe much in conflict of interest (except when it’s absolutely blatant).

From “Gut Creative” to the Age of Media & Technology

Up until the ‘70s, the ad business was living in an era of “gut creative.” Sure, there was research and strategy and statistics, but the gut ruled! Account service people were largely “bag men” for the Creatives. They had some ideas and input, but sold what they were given — the creative gurus were in charge. And media brought up the rear. In the words of a highly respected agency principal and creative guy in a new business presentation: “Oh, and yes, we have a media department.” That was their media presentation. They won the account!

I’m not sure when, but over the years, account service gained strength. Account service reps were no longer just salespeople — they became marketing people. I got my first job out of college with Tatham Laird & Kudner, a true stand-out packaged goods agency that was built on strong marketing. Account service drove the engine, harnessing the creative power, media power and so on.

While this school of thought continued well past the year 2000, a new Age began in the mid ‘90s as interactive marketing began to take hold. Today, we are firmly in what I call the Age of Media & Technology. It’s driven by the myriad of interactive media, fueled by creative and PR that satisfy the intense demand for content, and brought together by technology, which supplies software to sell products, track results and so much more.

Media + Offer + Creative = Success

Media — with more ways to sell than ever before — is now the lynchpin of our business. Direct marketing is taking center stage away from pure brand agencies with advertising that measurably drives sales and delivers ROI. The value a consistent brand image builds over time cannot be minimized, but it’s now the supporting partner.

This type of thinking (that media is the lynchpin of success) parallels the traditional direct marketing approach: success is driven by effective media, a solid offer and good creative. Direct marketers know that the most important of these is media. Get it wrong and everything else falls apart. Digital media is the greatest direct response medium ever invented. New media and emerging media have changed the world forever, as everyone reading this blog knows.

But there is also a new combination of people that are driving this engine:  digital media, digital creative and analytics. Public relations also is an essential element of this new world of measurable and immediate results. There was a time not long ago that PR was the polar opposite of DR…not so anymore! Every good DR agency now needs a strong PR component.

In this digital world, people who really understand how today’s media combine with technology and data to drive marketing success will get and keep accounts. Outstanding creative and account service support will always be important; a results-oriented campaign is dependent on successful collaboration of all departments. However, all effective digital creative folks and account service people understand today’s media, the technology behind it and how the analytics work, and can communicate that knowledge to clients.

Do Digital or Die

The core of today’s agencies has to be digital. Television and print aren’t going away. In fact, they’re more powerful when integrated with digital media. Collaboration between traditional and new media departments is critical as planning and buying strategies merge. Decisions need to be made on how these new digitized tactics are bought and tracked. You can’t even run a traditional media campaign anymore without a digital component. 

Let’s say your mission is to support a product at retail. You create a campaign to drive the necessary GRPs using TV as the dominant medium. Don’t stop there — today, you can amplify results with the following digital components:

·         Landing page: A landing page supplies an easy resource for people who want to learn more. You can use the landing page to capture leads. But wait — many people will not give you the info you want. You don’t know exactly who these people are, but you can track them around the web and target advertising to them.

·         Paid search: Additionally, any TV campaign without a Paid Search campaign running in conjunction is making a terrible mistake. Paid search is one of the most cost-efficient ways to produce the best ROI, and TV is proven to lift paid search results even further and generate quantifiable results (not just brand impressions).

·         Email: Use an email campaign to drive additional purchases from the database of purchasers and inquirers that you’ve generated using the above tactics.

·         But wait — there’s more!  Your campaign needs a social element and a mobile element. And don’t forget strong PR people working with the media, and creative and technology people to generate content, which drives SEO to enhance your social campaign and build low-cost brand impressions.

·         And the beauty is that the whole campaign is measurable. 

Fasten Your Seat Belt

In summary, a few thoughts:

·         Creative will never lose its critical role. We are an idea business and that will never change. 

·         Account Service also is crucial — keeping clients satisfied is of paramount importance. A word of caution to account service: know and understand media and technology, or you will end up like the creative “bag men” of the ‘60s. 

·         Media/Technology has assumed its place at the table in a big way, and the ad business will never be the same. 

The reality is that direct response agencies have an advantage, because advertising is all about producing ROI. Brand is now a strategy (not an objective on its own anymore) to produce sales. Today’s advertising engine is driven by media that produce quantifiable results, and the bulk of the client’s dollars will go where they can measurably do the most good. An advertising campaign built on solid principles of direct marketing (real direct marketing copy, offer testing and much more) delivers a big advantage over those built on brand strategy alone. Welcome to the Age of Media & Technology... it’s only going to get more exciting!