The idea that change is the only constant has evolved from a philosophical musing into a maxim that media agencies are learning to live by. As consumer behaviour has been transformed by an ever-expanding choice of media, pressure has been piling on agencies to better understand each channel's implications and revamp their planning to keep up.
Improved understanding was the key driver behind the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising's (IPA) TouchPoints survey. It was a long time coming; announced in 2004 and unveiled last spring, TouchPoints was intended to provide a link between the plethora of media information resources, including BARB, NRS and Rajar. By looking at consumers rather than media, the survey promised to offer a more holistic view of how individuals consume media, thus helping identify where, when and how to plan a mixed schedule. Its primary aim is to become an industry-wide research source to support media planners and buyers across the land - an ambitious task.
The survey, conducted by TNS, involved more than 5000 people completing questionnaires and a PDA time-based diary that collected data every half-hour for a week. It asked people how they spent their time, their opinions and the role of media in their lives. It found that TV remains the lead medium across all age groups, regardless of internet access. On average, adults watch 3.9 hours of TV a day during the week, and 4.5 hours at weekends. In comparison, they spend 0.8 hours a day online during the week, rising to an hour a day at weekends.
While obviously in its infancy, TouchPoints is a step in the right direction. Any insight to support media agencies is surely welcome at a time when many are under pressure; total billings for the top 50 agencies were down 3.4% in 2006, according to Nielsen Media Research, and among the top 20, 11 witnessed a slide in billings.
There were a few big pitches during the year - Barclays, General Motors and Danone among them - but it was far from a landslide of large accounts, placing extra pressure on agencies to look after their existing clients.
Client retention has been a perpetual challenge in an industry that puts an emphasis on new business. Toby Jenner, Mediaedge:cia's joint managing director, admits that the industry as a whole is appalling at managing its client relationships. 'We place a lot of importance on new business, but there's only one point in getting it and that's if you've stabilised the existing business. Otherwise it's like filling a leaky bucket,' he says.
Retention became a prime concern for Universal McCann following its loss of the Nestle account in 2004 and L'Oreal's business in 2005, with the hangover becoming evident in its 43.1% drop in 2006 billings. 'The main concern is to ensure the existing client base is stable. Having gone through what we did as a network in 04/05, you've got to look at shoring up big global clients,' says Universal McCann chief executive Andy Jones.
The next step is for agencies to ensure that they spend their clients' money wisely. Notably, TV billings fell last year from just under £4.1bn in 2005 to £3.8bn in 2006 as the medium's value for money came into question.
Central to concerns over TV has been the fortune of ITV, which has struggled with content, audiences and the impact of the Contract Rights Renewal system. The broadcaster has blamed a 'challenging' advertising market for its latest drop in annual profits. Revenues fell 8% to £1.49bn, with ITV1 ad revenues sliding £188m to £1.28bn. With Michael Grade as executive chairman, the broadcaster now has a strong hand on the tiller, but agencies are waiting to see just what his effect will be before plunging back in.
While the explosion of multichannel TV means that huge audiences for a single show are the exception rather than the rule, the medium can still offer a broad reach, which is why smoothie brand Innocent decided to venture into the medium. Last year it made its biggest investment in media (£5m), including a £1m post-Christmas TV campaign to capitalise on consumers' new-year health resolutions, aptly named 'Big January'. 'It was all about penetration and introducing more people to the brand,' explains Innocent's UK managing director, Jamie Mitchell. The results have impressed him enough to consider moving spend for the Innocent kids' range onto TV too, with a trial planned for May.
Media spend also supported the company's distribution of an Advent calendar as part of 'Big January', its annual Fruitstock festival in London, and its Supergran charity fundraising campaign, which saw 250,000 smoothie bottles topped with woolly hats in November and December. Mark Girling, managing director at Innocent's media agency Rocket, says this work shows a more collaborative approach between media agency and brand than the norm. 'We are looking less at conventional media and more at engaging strategies,' he says.
Securing that level of engagement has become trickier as consumers have become used to using a variety of media where, when and how they want, which has meant agencies have had to become more innovative to catch the eye.
'We look for something more creative than standard media discounts and planning,' says Mark Searles, managing director for retail and UK marketing officer at financial-services company Zurich, which works with media agency Zed Media. One such creative strategy saw Zurich sponsor the restoration work around Nelson's Column last year; it also partners The Guardian on its Futurology microsite, which is home to features on subjects such as climate change. 'Zurich runs a global brand campaign, "Because change happenz", so we looked at thought-leadership and the future,' says Searles. 'We were pleased with the way the agency thought through the brief.'
The Guardian was also used by Universal McCann as a showcase for Microsoft Windows XP's digital imaging. The agency helped create a photography award and exhibition.
Getting the media mix right is crucial to engagement, and the importance of the web has grown over the past year. The internet plays a major role in media consumption - TouchPoints shows a 15- to 24-year-old home user spends an average of 14.8 hours a week online - and 2006 is being as a digital tipping-point.
Over the past 18 months, a string of networks were keen to illustrate that digital was at their heart. Starcom revamped Starcom Digital, Walker Media launched its own digital wing, Carat restructured and introduced multi-disciplinary client teams to offer integrated services, OMD appointed a new director of digital, and Aegis transferred a 25-strong team from its digital shop Diffiniti into media agency Vizeum.
Top-five global media planning and buying company Aegis expects digital advertising to account for half its revenues within two years. According to Matt Andrews, joint managing director of Vizeum, digital is more than just a channel. 'It is a set of new audience behaviours, demands and expectations that are having an impact across all media,' he says. 'To connect, we are changing the way we think and work.'
Agencies have altered their structures to prove their relevance; now they have to deliver. Greg Grimmer, managing director of Zed Media, believes that new-media experience is driving its growth with clients including Tiscali and Zurich. 'It's essential for those businesses that they are with an agency that understands digital,' he explains. 'They are all big spenders in that field. The rise of Google and accountable media has made marketing directors want to count.'
Searles believes the financial-services sector, too, saw a tipping-point in terms of digital last year. 'Having an agency that understands that, and can help you and work with you on that, is very important,' he says.
After a 21% drop in billings in 2006, Initiative is focused on instilling its clients with confidence in new channels. 'Some are scared of digital,' admits Jerry Hill, Initiative's joint chief operating officer for Europe. 'It's not what they are used to, they have a real sense of what used to work and are suspicious of these new activities.' The agency offers a digital training programme to staff across different disciplines.
While the world of digital stokes the fires in the bellies of some, others are treading more cautiously. 'There will be a gradual realisation that we have gone too far, too quickly in terms of asserting total communications planning, and the role of online versus offline,' argues Phil Georgiadis, chief executive of Walker Media. 'There will be a realisation that we often do too many things not very well.'
He believes there is a real issue in how agencies are looking at coaxing organic growth from clients. 'Media agencies are now too happily transferring a budget from offline onto online without questioning the definition of those media channels,' says Georgiadis. 'There isn't enough focus on how we spend money in a given medium and prove its effectiveness so a client wants to spend more. Traditional channels are being neglected in favour of sexy new opportunities.'
It is this area that some feel TouchPoints has missed out. 'Clients want research to cross media boundaries, and so do agencies. The survey is good value, but it needs to get under the skin of the interactive consumer,' says Nick Lawson, group chief executive at MediaCom. 'I have a dream that all those bodies that provide quality research will get together and do TouchPoints, but there are too many vested interests.'
Lynne Robinson, research director at the IPA, is aiming to achieve a broader view of media brand consumption in TouchPoints' second edition, which should be completed by the end of this year. She is also keen to build on examples of companies using the research, which currently include News International. 'The survey will look more across (brands') various delivery mechanisms, such as the newspaper, the website, the podcast,' she says. 'You will be able to look at the brand across media.'
The challenge is getting agencies and clients to use the research, says Linda Smith, chief executive at Starcom, one of TouchPoints' founding agencies. 'It adds to our understanding of audience behaviour, and provides quantitative data on the context of media that we haven't had before,' she says. 'But there are issues - it is still a work in progress.'
Those issues have included concerns over a lack of attitudinal and product-consumption data, integration with other research currencies and worries that the sample sizes are too small, skewing data produced against niche audiences. 'That can and will be developed,' insists Smith. 'The more we use it, and encourage clients to use it, the accessibility of the research will become easier.'
TOP MEDIA AGENCIES 1-50
Rank Agency 2006 2005 %
06 05 billings billings change
1 1 MediaCom 883,226,430 965,262,479 -8.50
2 3 OMD 777,893,001 730,067,744 6.55
3 2 MindShare 732,302,209 768,466,051 -4.71
4 5 Starcom 654,210,288 670,580,404 -2.44
5 4 Carat 608,034,411 673,685,674 -9.75
6 6 ZenithOptimedia 577,364,807 551,050,218 4.78
7 7 Initiative 371,932,257 469,754,406 -20.82
8 11 Walker Media 252,315,820 207,968,890 21.32
9 10 Mediaedge:cia 233,108,332 213,162,462 9.36
10 9 PHD 231,428,852 239,064,000 -3.19
11 8 Universal McCann 228,916,843 402,319,477 -43.10
12 12 Vizeum 151,521,702 155,598,496 -2.62
13 14 Brilliant Media 117,412,987 107,296,965 9.43
14 13 MediaVest Manchester 114,273,251 116,527,048 -1.93
15 15 Media Planning Group 89,523,856 85,637,204 4.54
16 16 Mediaedge:cia Manchester 81,185,964 72,815,783 11.50
17 18 Feather Brooksbank 68,061,045 57,336,185 18.71
18 28 Zed Media 66,858,190 27,530,004 142.86
19 17 Booth Lockett Makin 57,220,656 59,615,857 -4.02
20 20 John Ayling & Associates 51,954,748 54,856,185 -5.29
21 29 Kinetic 49,442,472 25,087,704 97.08
22 19 BJK&E Media 48,798,438 54,961,488 -11.21
23 24 All Response Media 38,869,279 39,524,907 -1.66
24 23 AMS Media Group 37,826,814 43,157,096 -12.35
25 26 WWAV Rapp Collins Media 37,107,689 32,700,068 13.48
26 21 Media Campaign 34,923,528 43,590,488 -19.88
27 49 Rocket 30,608,756 12,359,170 147.66
28 27 Total Media 23,862,268 29,539,107 -19.22
29 37 Target Media 23,266,654 19,278,013 20.69
30 25 Equinox Communications 23,190,004 33,369,810 -30.51
31 38 Matters Media 21,863,458 17,976,453 21.62
32 32 Team UK Media 21,663,432 21,606,417 0.26
33 41 Burkitt DDB 21,133,180 15,625,454 35.25
34 39 Ptarmigan Media 20,995,268 17,228,368 21.86
35 36 Bray Leino 20,994,948 19,365,681 8.41
36 30 Media Vision Manchester 19,847,686 23,867,078 -16.84
37 33 Ekay Advertising &
Marketing 19,145,309 21,221,127 -9.78
38 31 Bygraves Bushell
Valladares Sheldon 16,777,147 22,246,874 -24.59
39 43 Lavery Rowe Advertising 16,217,257 15,083,945 7.51
40 45 Dewynters 15,740,750 14,477,483 8.73
41 42 Robson Brown 15,730,482 15,549,546 1.16
42 55 The Gate Worldwide 15,298,372 11,087,849 37.97
43 44 Media Vision 15,251,800 14,977,878 1.83
44 48 AW Media 15,194,082 13,341,598 13.89
45 40 TCS Media 14,810,730 15,955,255 -7.17
46 67 Mike Colling & Company 14,012,937 7,606,493 84.22
47 47 TMW (The Media Works) 12,971,667 14,011,372 -7.42
48 58 Media Shop 12,957,838 10,041,193 29.05
49 54 Rathbone Media 12,830,101 11,435,427 12.20
50 46 Posterscope 12,516,938 14,258,207 -12.21
Source: Nielsen Media Research.
Billings are based on accounts handled on a media-buying basis. Advertising spend figures are estimated on a number of factors, including rate cards, discount factors and viewing figures. Spend includes the cost of purchasing advertising display space for TV (terrestrial and satellite), radio (all regions), press (display only across all national, main regional, main consumer), cinema (all regions) and outdoor (all regions). The agencies are listed according to their names and structures in 2006.