Exceptional vigour

The role of the traditional media agency is not what it once was. Gone are the days when planners would operate within full-service agencies allocating funds to different media with the brief not to overload the audience or bust the budget.

It is also no longer true that having split from their creative colleagues a few years ago media agencies are simply using their specialist product knowledge to navigate an increasingly fragmented media market.

The media sector now realises it has a role to play in helping clients create excitement around brands. Advertisers expect their media agency to drive strategy by providing them with consumer insight, and to measure the most cost-effective and appropriate way to talk to their customers. This could be through traditional advertising, direct mail, public relations or point-of-sale activity. OMD, the IPA Best of the Best media agency of the year, has certainly moved into media neutral territory. Its work impressed the judges, who said the company displayed exceptional vigour and a true understanding of the media agency’s role.

The debate about OMD’s position on the shortlist was whether the work being assessed had come from one agency or two. During 2004 Nick Manning (pictured), OMD UK’s group chief executive, implemented his “velvet merger” of OMD and Manning Gottlieb, the group’s two operations. Some judges did suggest a technical foul might have been committed because both agencies operate as stand-alone brands but share the umbrella group’s resources.

Nevertheless, the OMD work was described by the judges as head and shoulders above its rivals’. The company has won awards for its brand-building activity across all media from digital to mainstream television on behalf of clients as diverse as Virgin Trains, Starbucks Coffee, Hasbro UK and Rimmel.

“OMD’s fresh ideas certainly stood out and its success shows how the agencies that still have a close relationship with creative agencies, but understand how different media is being used by different groups, are the ones doing well at the moment,” says judge Mark Cridge, managing director of advertising agency Glue London.

OMD’s business model is simple, but effective. It offers three central services to clients – customer insight, creative ideas and results – and the success of each illustrates how the function of the traditional media agency has evolved.

“The advertising recession forced media agencies to change. Clients wanted help to understand their customers, while today – with so much advertising clutter – there is pressure on agencies to be more creative in how they use the media they buy,” says Mr Manning. He adds: “The advertising agencies have not developed to such a degree in the last 10 years and they are getting worried about how media agencies have improved their credibility in the eyes of clients.”

The company won Campaign, Marketing and Media Week awards for its insightful UFO (Understanding Fifties and Over) research, which provided clients with evidence of how views and actions of the grey market are changing. The study, called Getting Older Thinking Younger, confirmed the over-50s have more spending power than before and the brand choices they make have more to do with attitude than with age.

The company’s ideas for clients such as Nissan, Starbucks, Eurostar, Apple, Virgin Money and Hasbro’s Action Man won numerous awards.

For the Learning to Fly campaign for Eurostar, MG OMD identified three key audiences using the group’s customer research tools: 21st century travellers, principled individuals and premium travellers. The agency decided outdoor media should lead the campaign, with buses, taxis and the London Underground used as primary contact points. These were supported with 96 sheets at 65 flagship sites showing images of the Eurostar trains taking off from a runway. A party was held at Waterloo station and a promotional runway printed on the floor along the entire length of the station.

The highly-regarded OMD Matrix results system helps clients evaluate the return on investment from their advertising, and it took four honours at the IPA Effectiveness Awards. It is worth noting that a few years ago, the media’s contribution to these awards was minimal.

Virgin Trains buys Matrix as a bolt-on agency service and it used the facility to measure the effectiveness of its £7m advertising campaign to launch new trains on the west coast main line. The results were integrated into the train company’s business planning to help finalise marketing budgets for 2005.

“Virgin is a strong brand but the rail industry suffers from negative public relations, so this is a tricky product to market. MG OMD understood that and tailored the planning and the creative elements for what was a complex campaign across the regional and national media. I did have concerns about the OMD merger because I like the creative thinking we enjoy from MG OMD and I did not want to lose that. Thankfully we haven’t,” says Craig Inglis, Virgin Trains’ sales and marketing director.

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