Who leads - media or creative?

Posted 22 May 2015.

​By Gareth O’Connor, PHD Group Strategy Director

​Forget power plays, the ‘who leads?’ question doesn’t need to be a tug of war between agency partners. In reality, each discipline plays an integral role in achieving the best outcome for the objectives of the client brief. There will always be more than one way that a client may choose to brief, but in my experience you get the best outcome when all agency parties are briefed at the same time.

So then, who takes the lead?

Well, us media folk firmly believe that before anyone - creative or media - puts pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard to start working on an idea, a good amount of thought first needs to be put into the front end.

For the media agency, the front end means understanding the client’s jobs to be done and what the role of communications is. We are then in a position to understand the tasks at hand and how we need to proceed.

This is very much a strategic role, and one I believe sits with the media strategic function first and foremost. Why? Because media has access to the target audience data, understands how these audiences behave, and has comprehensive knowledge of channels.

Only once we have an appreciation of the jobs that need to be done and the role of communications, can we get a clear picture of the roles that both the media and creative teams will play in delivering to the client brief.

Having an understanding of these roles allows us to fast track a campaign into the use of the most suitable channels. This ensures the creative team can best see where an idea will come to life - and it also removes the risk that something is created for a channel that has no place in the plan. At this stage, the creative and creative planning teams can start to work up their ‘big idea’ with the overarching guidance of what specific channels would be most suitable.

Continued dialogue between the creative and media teams throughout the ideation period is critical. This means making sure that the creative thinking fits with the media thinking, and that the idea can be amplified across all channels within the budget parameters.

Once the big idea has been cracked and approved by the client, the media team gets to do their thing; working up a clear strategy and implementation plan that details how the creative idea and campaign will come to life across all channels.

With the media plan finalised, it’s a good time for the media and creative teams to come together and jointly present a clear, linear solution to the client - the jobs to be done, the role of communications, the big idea, the media strategy and idea amplification, as well as media and campaign laydown.

Sounds simple. But for this to work egos need to be left at the door! We all want to avoid those inter-agency presentations where the client complains “why can’t you guys just work together”. It’s bloody painful and it makes getting anything approved a real struggle. None of us want to be in that situation, and that’s why the upfront planning is so important.

And this approach can work successfully in all situations. Even when the creative is pre-determined, such as creative work from previous or global campiagns, ensuring we get the front end right remains critical to understanding what jobs need to be done and the role communications will play. Once these front end components are confirmed, decisions can be made on whether we need to make any creative adaptations or localise the international work through local media initiatives.

So, back to the headline question “who leads?”. I belive the true answer is neither media nor creative leads. Rather we need to be led by the role of communications and the most effective channels to deliver the jobs to be done.

Ultimately we all want to do great work, work that delivers outstanding results for our clients, plus plaudits for us. The best way to do this is to leave our egos at the door and work together.