OPINION: The same market forces affect all sectors of the industry,
and clients all want one thing: the best - 'We stand or fall on
delivering on our promises'
I have been prompted to write this article after reading, with
great interest, the interview with Mr Cheng Sung Mao, chairman of
Ideology, the Taipei-based "creator of ideology behind brand
communications", which appeared in the November 10 issue of MEDIA.
This is Mr Cheng's description of his company, but one I totally
I have been based in Taiwan for only six months, but could not fail to
notice the bold and distinctive creative approach of Ideology.
Mr Cheng and his senior colleagues are to be congratulated on this, and
admired for their single-minded focus on what they believe in, rather
than taking the easy and financially secure route he says was offered by
many of the multinational agency groups.
I was therefore astonished that someone with his talent and experience
should make the remarks attributed to him regarding media
He is quoted as saying he "cannot see a true media independent in
Taiwan", and that "they (the media independents) were formed for the
purpose of making profits, and the increase of their bargaining
He goes on to say that media independents "are fighting for themselves,
not for their clients - what they said was not what they actually
I can't comment on what happened in the past - Carat has only been in
Taiwan since the beginning of this year, but in one important respect,
his remarks are factually incorrect.
Carat, the world's leading media specialist is owned by Aegis, a company
quoted on the London Stock Exchange and is totally independent of any
advertising agency group.
This should not be confused with what have been dubbed media
Companies like MindShare, for example, which is owned by WPP.
Here in Taiwan, Carat has entered into a joint-venture partnership with
It is a separate company, operating independently of United, and was
established because United's far-sighted management recognised some
inescapable and crucial facts.
Firstly, a statement of the obvious: media is changing. This has always
been the case, but today the pace of that change has never been
This change has been driven by a number of factors, including both
technological innovation, and increasing legislative liberalisation, the
net result of which has been an 'explosion' of media choice for
One's own experience verifies that this has brought significant change
in the way we, as consumers, 'use' media.
As media 'practitioners' whether agency or media specialist, we need to
understand the effect of this change on the way consumers use media.
In this changing media environment, it is also a fact in every market I
know of, existing industry-funded research has not kept pace, and is no
longer sufficiently reliable to use in the creation of effective media
strategies - planning and buying.
Experience suggests that bringing about the necessary change to this
industry research is painfully slow, if not impossible, and it is
therefore only the largest of the media specialist companies who have
the resources, and have the will to commission their own research, and
to develop the software packages to analyse and apply it.
In this respect then, size does matter, but our objective is more
effective communication, exactly the same as that of Mr Cheng and
What all this 'change' demands of course, is a significant increase in
investment in an agency's media operation.
But surely the crucial area is creative?
Yes, of course it's crucial, but so is media.
And given the right environment, I submit that media strategy, media
planning and media buying can all be accurately described as 'creative',
and that the ability to think creatively is not the sole prerogative of
the creative department.
I feel sure most people would agree that even the very best creative
advertisement would have little or no effect if it appears in the wrong
place, at the wrong time.
Even more importantly, it wastes a client's money.
With around 85 per cent of a client's budget ending up in the hands of
media owners, it is perhaps not surprising that increasing numbers of
enlightened clients are taking a much closer interest in how their
budget is planned and bought.
After all, for most clients, the advertising budget is one of the
largest items in their balance sheet.
Mr Cheng and his colleagues put their beliefs and ideals on the line by
starting their own company.
They believed there was another, better way, and their client list is
testimony to their success.
Yet, disappointingly, his alleged views on media specialists
demonstrates precisely the same myopia that forced myself and a number
of like-minded media people to leave our comfortable (well, fairly
comfortable, at least!) corporate lives with multinational agencies, and
put our beliefs and ideals on the line.
The fact that in Europe more than 75 per cent of media budgets are now
planned and bought by someone other than the clients' creative partner
suggests we might just have a point.
But it is most certainly true that it didn't happen overnight, and also
that it was not accomplished without a good deal of pain.
But this is not Europe, this is Asia, I hear you say. Asia is different;
market conditions here are not like Europe.
Yes, of course market conditions are different, but a number of
fundamental issues are not.
Fact - clients do not appoint a full-service agency on the basis of its
Equally importantly, clients do not fire their full-service agency for
By definition, as a media specialist, all we do is media.
We have to be better, (and I mean 'value', not just 'cheaper').
We cannot hide a second-rate media strategy behind a brilliant creative
idea and high production values.
I am certainly not suggesting this happens at Ideology, but most people
who work in this business will know precisely what I mean.
Media specialists are therefore totally accountable, so if we don't get
it right, every time, we lose the business.
It is the very existence of media specialists that allows a client the
flexibility to appoint the very best creative partner, and the very best
media partner - without compromise.
When a client appoints a media specialist, they do so because they are
convinced they will get better resource, better planning, better buying,
better service, greater expertise and greater experience.
What Carat offers its clients can be summarised in four words: increased
return on investment (of their media budget).
If I were a client of Ideology, Mr Cheng's views on media would be
causing me some concern.
Failure to make the necessary investment in his media operation must
jeopardise effective brand communication - the very foundation of
As an observation, I would have to say clients in Taiwan have been slow
to embrace the benefits offered by the presence of media
But, clients will increasingly demand answers to some difficult
questions about how their budget is planned and bought.
To be average is no longer good enough, even if it ever was.
In addition, and this is a crucial point, the very best media talent
will continue to be attracted away from agencies to media specialists,
drawn by the greater resource and media professionalism, and the
opportunity to work with the best, to deliver the best.
Carat works successfully with a number of the best creative agencies in
We work closely with them to deliver the best solution to a client's
Of course, there are occasional differences of opinion with a creative
supplier over what that best solution might be.
But these are resolved between us in a professional way, based on what
we jointly believe is in the best interests of the client, and not what
is perhaps the easiest or most obvious solution.
We will not, under any circumstances, ask the client to be the
It is my belief that the most productive relationships are those based
on mutual respect and admiration.
Similarly, in my experience, the best solutions are those developed
where creative and media strategies are developed side-by-side, with
neither dominating the other.
Let me conclude by touching on the issues of size, or 'bargaining power'
It seems to me that there have always been, and will always be,
economies of scale whatever you are buying, and it mystifies me why this
is perceived as a problem.
We do not ever buy what suits us, but only what is determined by the
right strategy for each individual client.
With our client base, however, it would be surprising if that didn't
make us one of the largest customers of most key media owners.
I do not see this as something, which works against the best interests
of any of our clients, or indeed those of the media owners.
On the question of profit, of course we have targets to reach, as most
But I suspect many clients and agency chief executives would be
surprised at the scale of the investment in research and development
Carat continues to make, and by the margins against which most media
specialists have to generate their profits.
We have to run our businesses extremely efficiently.
But in my experience, the most enlightened clients want to see their
creative and media partners properly remunerated for the 'value' of the
services they provide.
Services which at their best, can and do significantly affect a clients'
In Taiwan, just as in other markets, we will stand or fall on delivering
the promise we make to our clients, namely an improved return on their
media investment; something which personally I am delighted to say I
still find an enormously stimulating challenge.