Is it time to give marketing back to ad agencies?

Kellogg’s UK marketing director Kevin Brennan seemed to be suggesting it wouldn’t be such a bad idea in his recent speech to the Media 360 conference.

“In the 1970s JWT and Leo Burnett were basically our marketing department,” he observed of a period he called the first golden age of advertising.

He went on to suggest that agencies could earn extra loot and kudos by co-ordinating digital marketing for clients rather than just concentrating on execution. A second golden age then?

It’s hard to argue with the theory that clients, and obviously agencies, were better off when the agencies did provide both the strategy and big chunks of the nitty gritty like research and even PR for clients.

Clients still had a marketing director and a few helpers of course but saved themselves the bother and expense of huge in-house departments stuffed with strange job descriptions.

Even more to the point the people in the agencies were cleverer because agencies paid better. Therefore the clients received better advice and better campaigns.

Because they didn’t need to employ separate agencies for creative work, media, digital, PR and heaven knows what they also saved a huge amount of time and money. Just visiting and keeping tabs on all these suppliers must cost a fortune.

Going back to the future will probably never happen of course (it rarely does). Back in the 70s agencies made huge profits out of fixed media commission and so were able to chuck in all these other things at no charge. It’s hard to see clients agreeing to pay 15 per cent media commission again.

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell has tried, is still trying, to recover these halcyon days by attempting to cherry pick multi-disciplinary teams from his hundreds of companies to handle big clients’ entire budgets. To an extent he has succeeded with companies like HSBC.

But you still get turf wars among the various agencies because they have their own bottom lines to think of (which Sir Martin keeps a beady eye on) and different agencies in different sectors have different cultures and levels of ability.

But Brennan’s plea for agencies that could take a hands-on overview of digital doings may indeed offer a way back.

The trouble is it will lead to inevitable fights between the creative, media and digital agencies.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.