The Department: A Prenup for Media-Creative

I once mentioned in this column that I have felt like a bit of a media outsider over the course of my career, due to my stubborn insistence on remaining at full-service agencies. One could argue that I've missed out on major opportunities -- like, say, money, fame, and glory -- by not signing on to the media agency rush of the 1990s. I have chosen to see it as conviction, rather than shortsightedness, that kept me close to the creative product, but no doubt many of my peers have disagreed.

And now? Sweet vindication!

Is it just me, or has nearly every marketing soothsayer called for the re-merger of media and creative over the past six months? It started last fall, when panels at several high-profile industry conferences stated that "re-bundling" media was their top priority. David Lubars, creative star of BBDO (and my former colleague at Fallon), named the media-creative marriage as the No. 1 opportunity for agencies in this new era. Then in February, Scott Donaton of Advertising Age opined that media planners should not only be bundled back in, but should be made (gasp!) the equals of creatives. The very same week, Jim Stengel of Procter & Gamble reportedly shared with the British press his belief that creative and media need to be planned by the same person.

What's going on? Why is everyone suddenly on the media-equality bandwagon? Creative shops' motivation is obvious: Once stripped of media, they found they also began to fall short in client relationships and account leadership. The smartest also knew they couldn't do great, consumer-engaging work without media thinking being deeply embedded in creative development. (As Lubars stated, "We've got to find ways to delight consumers. We need media with us to do that.")

For marketers, their motivation is clear: They're fed up. For years now everyone has gushed about the "new media landscape" -- yet the media plans, as well as the creative that they're presented with by their agencies, look frighteningly like those of the 1980s.

Obviously the answer is to put media and creative together, right?

Not so fast. Too many of the people talking about this have hit on only half the equation (or less). It's not enough to want integration, or even to organize for it. For a media-creative marriage to work, some critical conditions have to be met:

>>The collaboration has to start upstream. Without strategic alignment, even the best of intentions won't lead to creative and media interaction that works. While it's talked about ad nauseam, truly productive strategic integration -- alignment between the creative strategy and the media approach -- is elusive. It requires media-minded people who have the conceptual skills and temperament to hold their own with agency account planners -- not the easiest types to find in our business. It requires willingness on both sides to debate the best integrated solution. And it requires that these parties sit in the same room to get there (no matter what company they work for).

>>We must have briefs that inspire brilliant media-melded-with-creative ideas. As Fallon's connection planners have learned since we introduced the discipline in 1999, brief development is an art form. It's hard enough to come to a genuine consumer or brand insight -- one that can lead to a different way of thinking about how to engage people with client brands. It's even harder to translate that insight into a brief that can be a jumping-off point for media planners to invent amazing ideas. Tone and language matter, and a brief that's even a little flat can constrict media innovation.

>>Media people must match creatives in idea-generating talent. You can put media people in the same room with creatives and tell everyone to play nice, but if the two don't develop mutual respect, the match won't work. Media people have to demonstrate that they value brilliant ideas over low cost-per-thousands, and they have to match their creative brethren in their inventiveness. After searching for such media professionals across the country for more than seven years, I can tell you that they are shockingly few and far between.

So yes, let's celebrate the awakening that's going on in our business. Such broad recognition of media's value and rightful role is a wonderful development. But woe to those who underestimate what it takes to make real collaboration work. It's so much more than simply putting creatives and media in the same room.