Why Media People Are Boring: (It's Not Really Their Fault)

I stood flabbergasted at the stark difference between my colleagues. On one hand were a couple creatives, openly speculating on what sort of ruse would be necessary to make our waiter take off all of his clothes. On the other hand were the media team, talking about the interest rates on their various credit cards in relation to who was going to pay the lunch bill.

A quick look at all the trade magazine littering my office floor shows only further evidence that somehow, creatives have been given license to think and do whatever they choose, while the media people are respected more for conformity to schedules. This might be considered an unfair comparison by some. After all, creatives are, well, creative, and they're supposed to come up with imaginative ideas starting from scratch. True, but that's what I expect of my media people too.

The problem is less that media people are inherently boring (ok, ok, well not most of them anyway), but rather that the media choices available to them aren't diverse enough to constitute a creative environment.



When your media plans inevitably come back to CBS, Time Warner, and Yahoo! over and over again, the different proportions of media weight simply cannot be considered a creative decision. This is the very same reason many large clients can't abide paying a media buying agency more than 5 percent of billings.

In part this is due to the fact that media proliferation, a constant force in the U.S. since two centuries ago, is just too slow to provide creative options. The problem is also due, though, to the fact that media consolidation constantly mitigates proliferation's fruits. In the 1980s, there developed the MTV phenomenon, quickly copied by three or four others. The 1990s featured MTV swallowing up the others. I want my non-MTV music television.

Finally, in an environment in which clients have repeatedly shaved down media buying firms' compensation, there is very little incentive to staff up for time-consuming exploration and innovation, all of which is quite likely to get rejected in client approvals. This results in media firms seeking simplicity for the sake of efficiency. As they consider fewer options, the market for the more diverse offerings shrinks, helping accelerate consolidation.

Media has become to creative as Ad Libs are to writing. (An analogy that only the media person would have gotten correctly on the SATs.)

Over lunch my creative team was considering the different opportunities for humor in testimonials versus satire ads. Part of a gin and tonic was coming out of one of their noses, as they imitated fictional satisfied customers. The media people had resolved that SportsCenter was the better of two sports shows they could consider. Walking outside, the client told me to bring just the creatives to dinner.

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