Mark encouraged both camps to put aside their traditionally collaborative professional working relationship in order to provide an entertaining back-drop to the discussion. To get proceedings off to a start an initial show of hands showed that the audience were largely split down the middle in terms of their own views of who comes up with the best ideas so it was all to play for from the outset.
The Times lost the toss and Louise elected to go first, focussing on media agencies expertise in understanding brands and highlighting the importance of a rich and detailed understanding of their key challenges in the face of increasing media fragmentation. She argued that while media owners knew their own audience it was not possible to have an intimate knowledge of every advertiser they worked with in such a fast changing environment. Equally, she felt that their own ideas were limited to the media environment within which they worked constraining the potential of any brand idea. The thrust of her point overall was that media agencies were better able to come up with more fully-formed, holistic ideas versus what she regarded as media-centric ideas.
The softer part of Louise’s argument was that media agencies also performed a much needed role in acting as an interface between creative agencies and media owners. She cautioned media owners to be “careful what they wished for” as working with creative agencies represented a challenge in itself, one that they had been protected from by the media agency, acting as gatekeeper.
In response, Paul tackled Louise’s argument head-on stating that media agencies were struggling to get to grips with fragmentation purely from a resource point of view. He claimed that while many agencies planning and research departments had static or falling headcounts Times Media Group had increased its strategic capabilities. He stated that with 33 strategy experts at TMG, many ex-agency planners, he had the largest strategic resource compared to his media agency partners.
He believed that this meant his team were better equipped at meeting client’s needs and coming up with ideas because they would be built on a more up-to-date level of insight in regard to consumers and the media they consume. Moreover, he felt that with their delivery of content in multiple channels (blogs, podcasts, mobile) and access to data on up to 15 million consumers that clients would benefit from a more direct relationship.
While differences were brought out throughout the debate it was conceded by both sides that some of the best examples of ideas, such as BMW, were born out of two key factors: excellent briefs written by media agencies and a close collaboration on delivery of the idea.
What followed was an interesting and at times heated debate between the two sides and their respective followers. Discussion ranged from the threat of new players such as Google to the increasing importance of data. Everyone agreed that it had been a worthwhile debate and a final show on hands implied a slight swing to the media agencies.