Media People Moving Out

Where people sit in an ad agency has always told a great deal about their status. It's very 1950s. When you start supervising other employees, you might get a window. The closer your floor is to the boss's, the more influence you're perceived to have. Having a door that closes is a luxury afforded directors and above. But the very worst thing that could happen to your career is that you be sat nearby the media people.

It's not that they smell or that they steal the toilet paper rolls. They just represent a part of the agency with which account executives and creatives desire to have no truck: the people who are saddled with real work tasks. The media people are considered - at least by creatives and account people - as belonging to the support staff of the agency. From their windowed offices in their high-level floors, creatives imagine that the media people get laid in cheek by jowl with secretaries, janitors and the guy named Manfred who takes color print outs and puts them on paste board.

I can remember visiting Weiden & Kennedy in Portland, OR as an executive from another agency working on a common client. The account executive assigned to herd me around thought it odd that I wanted to see the media department. We had to travel through a warren of halls, basements and cubicles in order to pop up like a groundhog in a different building, where the media people were kept safely away from the creatives, from whom they presumably would have sucked creative energy, like The Entity from Star Trek.

While it would be intuitive to normal people, we agency management types need to prove to ourselves over and over again that failing to tightly integrate the media people into the agency leads to poor work at best and disaster at worst. In the early 90s, an agency I worked for once went to a major client with a disjointed advertising campaign that consisted of media placements on outdoor billboards and creative consisting of a series of TV commercials. They were fired within months.

Which brings us to the most recent media office comic-tragedy, the travails of the wandering Lowe media planners. After Lowe merged with Bozell, plans to combine the physical location of the new Siamese twins were kyboshed by a long-term Bozell lease agreement. Normal people would have mixed up elements of all the departments across both offices - which certainly would have better integrated the marketing teams across departments and former agency affiliations. But the account and creative people who comprise the management of Lowe decided instead to pull all the good parts of the Bozell agency into the uptown mother ship and cut the others loose into the 23rd Street office until the lease ran out. The good parts, in the eyes of the Lowe management, were everyone except the media people and a forlorn print production unit. It's certainly a new Lowe.

The media people will now be set adrift to stew in a media quarantine. Sure, they might have some temporary access to the nicer digs vacated by the escaping account guys, but what will happen when the lease is up? Will true citizens of the agency, such as copywriters and art directors, give up their offices at the mother ship when the lease runs out? It's an insulting question. If precedent serves, they'll make room, but it will be dark and dank and will be lit by the hum of fluorescent tubes that outline the caves carved as an afterthought under the entrails of the agency.

If you see a Lowe media planner in town, take pity. Buy her a cup of coffee in an outdoor café. Say a good word. Ask her opinion about something. Let her know that there are others out there who respect her and think that media strategy deserves a higher priority.

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