Column: Aperture - Bring Back Digital

After a 10-year struggle to unbundle media planning and buying from the creative agency structure, there is renewed interest in some circles about putting it all back together. Could media planning and buying truly excel if housed within a creative agency? In certain circumstances, certainly. Media planning and buying can also excel as an entity, separate and independent, working in true partnership with creative and other agencies. Essentially, we believe that in an industry as big as ours, one organizational structure cannot fit all client service requirements.

That said, what's our problem? It's not outside the media function, but inside. Communications strategists are now working as team leaders between specialist media groups and the creative agency. Planning has become a mass management project. One group in particular must be returned to the media agency fold - the digital group. Yes, we engineered the separation, operating under the belief that creating an independent agency to focus on the Internet was necessary. Special tools, data, techniques and talent led to separate agency names, management structures, staffing and fees. These independent groups became the topic du jour of trade publications and eventually the source for ranking size and success. The industry went further and created awards celebrating the work, people and growth of these agencies. Now, holding companies, media agencies and creative agencies are proud to present their independent digital groups. The biggest and the best!

What's the problem? Just about everything.

Think about it for a moment. The digital practice touches everything and needs to be an integrated part of what we do. No other medium is as pervasive. Every TV network, TV station, radio station, magazine and newspaper has a Web site. Every negotiation we do involves messaging extensions into those digital platforms. If we are to be effective in the marketplace negotiating with these companies, constant digital specialist involvement is critical. But how can we excel if the digital group isn't an integral part from the start of the media process.

A brief look at the most popular Internet sites reveal that 5 of the top 10 belong to media companies - companies we've been working with for years; companies that have the ability to create synergistic content relevant to our clients' products, if digital and traditional work together.

Why does this matter? We work hard to identify the aperture moments, when consumers are open to receiving a message. Testing and proving our strategies in communications planning is an involved process. Implementing those strategies flawlessly requires alignment among all groups, including digital. Separate companies, incomes and management often result in separate agendas, which in turn work to break down a carefully crafted communications plan.

So why do we still look at the digital media practice in such a disconnected manner? We don't separate broadcast and print media. There are no network TV buying shops. All strategies begin with client objectives and consumer needs and are satisfied through the development of an integrated communications plan. It's time for the digital practice to rejoin the media agency - and time to integrate digital media into planning strategies.

So let's start evaluating the efficacy of the stand-alone digital agency in the environment of increasing integration. Let's drive for organizations that add efficacy to the process, produce outstanding results and add value to our client's advertising programs. Let's start awarding agencies and people, not for individual achievement or work in individual media but for integration. Let's start celebrating those agencies that integrate digital into everything they do.

Could the digital media practice excel as an integrated part of a media agency? Absolutely. In fact, we believe that it's the future of the business, the future of success and a model to follow.

Steve Farella, president-CEO, and Audrey Siegel, executive vice president and director of client services, are cofounders of TargetCast TCM. (

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