Full-service agency mindset: The need of the hour?

Weren’t times better when the all-important thinking and that central creative idea came from one stable? Does the industry need to leap back to the full-service approach? Industry experts weigh in...

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Oct 8, 2018 8:46 AM

Throwback to the days when the World Wide Web was nothing but a dream. The ad agency world must have been blissfully straightforward. Add to the fact that all the creative thinking was happening under one roof-- it was powerful stuff. Things worked well for a while, and then the Internet changed everything. So as the status quo became disrupted by search, social, evolution of mobile and then swathes of digital data, agencies reacted by hiring specialist agencies for each new discipline. But has the separation of creative and media in the past two decades sucked ideas out of the media business? To go full-service or not, industry experts weigh in…

The good old days
There was an era in which agency partners were equal stakeholders in the business of the brands they serviced. The custodians sat on the same side of the table. This ‘full-service’ approach was quite the hit and gave birth to a glut of famous agencies. But then a new generation of marketing and advertising professionals stole the march on the industry by setting up specialist digital agencies. And the rest is history...

Weren’t times better when the all-important thinking and that central creative idea came from one stable? KunalJeswani, Chief Executive Officer, Ogilvy India, says that he has always found the experience of creative and media working together far richer than either working in isolation. He asserts that the separation of creative and media hurts both ways. “Media agencies miss the inputs of brand strategists and the richness of ideas from creative partners that affects the choice of media. And creative agencies miss the inputs of media partners to make their work more effective, particularly in the new age of digital media fragmentation. We work very well with our media partners within WPP and outside, but I do miss us being joint at the hip,” shares Jeswani.

Amer Jaleel, Group Chairman and CCO, MullenLoweLintas Group, states that full-service is definitely an idea and can be a really strong offering but difficult to throw together. “The skills and attitudes that have solidified and evolved in these two kinds of agencies are very diverse and the cultures and work styles in these workplaces are also extremely different. Only a network that owns these two agencies and has a lot of intent and muscle and patience can put them together,” he says.

Jaleel points out that interestingly, creative agencies never gave too much importance to media departments or people because back in the day there wasn’t that much to achieve in media. “But now media looks sexy and contemporary and has a huge amount to contribute not just to brand diffusion but it can have huge strategic and tactical impact on business. In a sense, both have now developed egos and it would be really enjoyable to see them come together in the same office and see how that pans out.”

The case for full-service
The question here is: Is the full-service agency model a relic of the past? And what if the industry suddenly leapt back to it, would it be of essence? For Agnello Dias, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Taproot Dentsu India, media is a critical component in the execution of a campaign. Dias maintains that delineating creative and media has hacked at the very root of advertising’s responsibility and purpose.

“Ideation cannot be ignorant of its eventual form of execution. You can’t sketch a dress design without knowing how much material you have. You can’t compose music without knowing whether it will be performed by a soloist, a street band, a school choir or symphony orchestra. The result is either so simplistic that it accommodates every form of execution or is so mismatched with ground realities that it’s all a colossal waste,” he says. Dias reasons that eventually it is only the rare piece that slips through and falls in place on both fronts to end up as a powerful campaign. “And that is often by chance than by design,” he says.

RohitOhri, Group Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, FCB India, agrees that the fragmentation of the industry has resulted in ideas getting fragmented as well. “A fragmented idea has significantly lesser impact in the marketplace. And consequently lesser ROI. Agencies must build capabilities to fully service ideas,” he suggests.

Speaking about fragmentation, VineetSodhani, CEO, Spatial Access, feels that with so much of fragmentation within media as well as creative, full-service may be a difficult model to emulate.” While agency commission costs for multiple players is an issue with clients, brand managers of large companies are going crazy managing so many partners and getting their symphony right during a campaign. So one would love the idea of a full service. The question is will the full service agency be good in all aspects or will the client compromise in some aspects in lieu of easier and better brand management and some cost savings?,” Sodhani points out.

TarunRai, CEO, J Walter Thompson, is of the opinion that there were good reasons to spin-off and consolidate the media departments of various full-service agencies two decades ago. “Not just media but other specialised capabilities were spun-off too. However, while that was the appropriate thing to do at the time, it did lead to a situation where the CMO was dealing with many communication partners to deliver that one brand message to the consumer,” he explains.

Rai emphasises that the danger was of the message getting diffused, even distorted, in the hands of so many diverse partners. He shares that increasingly, many clients are asking for an integrated approach where partners can work together seamlessly. “Structures built around large clients have been tried with different degrees of success. Is going back to the full-service agency model the answer? I really think that with the changed and dynamic world we are living in, finding that silver bullet of a structure may be difficult. Instead, we should be agile and flexible enough to work with fluid structures where we tailor our structures to the needs and requirements of a particular client or to a particular assignment. Horses for courses rather than a one-size-fits-all approach,” Rai opines.

Complexities, collaboration and change
As we go along, it’s interesting to see some agencies adopt the integrated approach. MullenLowe Group last year announced the entry of MullenLoweMediahub in India with the launch of LintasMediahub, the media agency which was launched as a full-service media offering. “As part of the omni-channel offering of PointNineLintas, it is designed to bring creativity and media together,” the agency had said.

Havas Group too, last year, united the creative and media divisions under one P&L. Vishnu Mohan, CEO, Havas Group India & South East Asia/ CEO Havas Media APAC, explained that the plans to merge and integrate all the group assets started sometime early last year. However, it has formally come to India only now. “Yes, it began last year. But it has been rolled out bit by bit. We are not rushing into a blanket timeline, but we are on the path to making it happen in every single market. Actually in my region, after India, the only market left is Malaysia, all of the rest are under an integrated structure,” he adds.

Says Mohan, “If you see, content sits largely with the creative side of things and data sits with media. So how do you make these two important things talk for each other if you do not create a structure that allows them to talk? And this is a big challenge that everyone recognises. All of the networks understand that the integration is key, because you cannot make content and data work together unless you create a structure. Fortunately, our scale, size and less silos, make it a lot easier.”

In an interview with exchange4media, RanaBarua, Havas India, Group CEO, had said that the full-service agency model is going to be the only effective working way, as we move ahead. “I totally believe and advocate a full-service agency model. It is a huge differentiator with all the necessary division expertise and can be a strength for any agency or ecosystem that can demonstrate effective working together.”

Raghu Bhat, Director, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, acknowledges that the creation of one entity that can deliver whatever the brand needs faster will help. According to him, marketing is changing but two things haven't changed. “Marketers want more for less. They want a single point of contact who can offer quality and end-to-end execution. Two things decide quality of ideas - quality of the ideators and collaboration,” he explains. Bhat says that the separation of the media and creative agency not only limits the idea pool but also impacts the ability to collaborate.” It's a cliché that ideas can come from anywhere. But don't think clients really believe that,” he concludes.

Bobby Pawar, MD & Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Worldwide, also pinpoints on collaboration. “I believe that the need of the hour is to collaborate. The way forward is clear, unless you have a larger view of how to solve a client’s problem, you will be providing fragmented solutions. I’m not saying everything should be homogenous. But it should be about stronger, larger solutions, that cater differently to different touch-points,” says Pawar.

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