If copy writing and art direction are the essentials of advertising, planning and buying are media vitals. Presently, we see industry leaders follow different practices around these functions. One, where planning and buying are treated as independent functions, and second is the unified structure, where they are under the supervision of the same professional. The industry evidently has different beliefs on which the deliverable structure is.
For GroupM, a common planner-buyer is a huge 'NO'. Ashutosh Srivastava, CEO, GroupM, India and South Asia, expresses, "If you mean planning as in communication channels planning on the brand, then I don't agree with such a structure nor will any advertiser. This has obviously come from people who don't understand communications planning value and think planning is all about creating clever TV schedules!"
At GroupM, functions are divided in three units that work in a matrix structure. The Consumer Connections Group is communications planner who tracks consumer behaviour and draws insights thereof enabling planners to come up with communication ideas and allowing business teams to set measurable communication objectives.
Then there is the investment and trading unit, which negotiates for individual clients and at times, as one voice, on behalf of multiple clients. Business teams work with both these groups to execute a communication channel plan. A complete contradiction to what is seen at Lodestar, where the client has a common planner-buyer.
Shashi Sinha, President, Lodestar Media, explains that the agency brought in the structure as early as 2000, "We are the first agency to follow such a structure and I believe, the only one to practice it in its pristine pure form. Needless to say, I am a firm believer." He expresses that the key advantage is that this system means total brand ownership, "Unlike where a planner plans theoretically and a buyer just buys on best deals regardless of whether the buys fit into the brand strategy. For instance, for male TG, buyers will buy afternoon just to prove better rates, something no planner will advise."
Unlike Lodestar, Carat Media also believes that the unified structure doesn't quite fit the bill, "This is an ideal situation, desirable but not realistic," says Charles Berley Jenarius, Group CEO, Carat Media, "Both planning and buying are highly specialised areas and require different skill sets to deliver the best. It is very rare to find all these skills resident in the same person, hence the need to have specialists to perform the respective functions."
Specialisation does appear to be the key word but players in the game know that there are pitfalls to over-specialisation. Professionals falling prey to commodity haggling is not a strange phenomenon to the media industry. However, as the leaders discuss, that is one aspect each player clearly steers away from and Starcom does it by following a mixture of both structures.
"In our view there is no one-size-fits-all rule here," says Ravi Kiran, MD, Starcom (S&W), "In our larger offices, we have dedicated investment (buying) teams, since the volume of business demands continuous interaction with media owners and special negotiation skills. At the same time, in other offices, we have at least some planners who are trained in negotiating."
For Srivastava, planners simply don't buy, "There are agencies today that have the same person for planning and buying. And we have seen pitch after pitch that their clients don't see the benefits of planning at all. The belief is that media contribution can be measured only in terms of who has struck the cleverest deal. Clients would like to centralise media buying, as buying is all about consolidation and leveraging of clout, like any other type of procurement."
Starcom and Carat present a different opinion expressing that clients don't really have a preference for either structure as long as they get the outcome. Sinha, on the other hand, has yet a different opinion on this count, "Clients are happy with a unified structure, as there is one interaction point, which has all the answers with one common point-of-view. The bigger advantage is that brand strategy is always overarching and never compromised on."
One problem that does seem to come across with the unified structure is the availability of talent. Throwing light on this, Sinha remarks, "Training people in both skill sets requires that much more effort, as you don't get readily available talent. That said, people working on a unified structure are a lot happier. They feel in control and realise that they are genuinely adding value."
Not something Jenarius agrees with, "In a rare scenario even if we do come across a single person with both skills, he/she will be unable to do justice to both, as both these areas are extremely demanding and complex in their own way."
As for the way forward, GroupM and Carat believe that the future will definitely see planning and buying independently becoming more specialised and focussed. Lodestar opines that unified skill is the future's model and Starcom sees the future in good orchestration of specialist functions, where the two structures will co-exist and may be other newer structures will emerge. As of now, the two systems coexist in the industry, and by looking at the agencies' records - they have seldom proved to be a hindrance as far as winning the clients is concerned. However, goes without saying that only one of them would emerge stronger in future, and believers in the others would probably have to tow the line.