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Agencies Agency Culture Media Planning and Buying

Could ITV and Leo Burnett’s ‘twinning’ scheme provide a model for other agencies?


By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

July 3, 2023 | 7 min read

Planners at the broadcaster and the Publicis Groupe agency share how network building can work outside the scaffolding of formal commercial agreements.

love island winter

ITV’s client strategy team and Leo Burnett London planners have ‘twinned’ their departments / ITV

Solid intel isn’t always easy to come by, but staffers at Leo Burnett’s London office and broadcaster ITV’s client strategy planning team have landed on a novel solution – ’twinning’ their teams to share knowledge and expertise.

Taking inspiration from the practice of unlikely urban match-ups (Glasgow is twinned with Havana, for example), the pairing sees each team take turns to host the other at their offices in the capital, roughly once every two months, with individual planners twinned to encourage collaboration.

“The idea was, we both have quite good-sized departments, but they could be stronger if they spent more time together, sharing ideas and solving problems together,” says Tom Sussman, Leo Burnett London’s deputy chief strategy officer. “It feels like a natural fit.”

Sussman hopes it can bridge a professional divide between creative agencies and media owners, while ITV’s client strategy and planning director Kate Waters says it’s an opportunity to “really come up with very rich conversations and rich ideas that help propel brands into popular culture”.

Waters and her team provide planning services to ITV’s own commercial advertising department. “On a daily basis, my team helps the sales team write pitches for partnership ideas between ITV and many of our advertisers,” she explains. In the past, they have highlighted opportunities such as eBay’s partnership with Love Island. “It’s a very similar skillset, in many ways, to the skillsets that exist within a creative agency.”

It’s a pretty ad-hoc arrangement, says Waters, and an entirely un-commercial, non-contractual one. She is careful to note that the informal pairing is between the two planning teams and doesn’t interfere with ITV’s existing agency partnerships.

Non-identical twins

It does hold value for both parties, though. Sussman and Waters point out that the respective market positioning of the two companies is also similar, hinging on the idea of “populist creativity” and “democratizing the good stuff in life,” as Sussman puts it.

“Increasingly, we’re having to find new ways for media owners, media agencies and creative agencies to work together to make that stuff happen. We know we can’t do it alone.”

He says that while creative agencies have no shortage of new ideas, their understanding of how those ideas might be brought to life within a media space is sometimes lacking; Waters says her team faces the same problem in reverse, with media spaces lacking creative ideas to plug in.

“By bringing the departments together in an informal way, we stand a better chance of plugging our big populist thinking into culture and actually making it sing properly,” adds Sussman.

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Waters, who spent five years leading Partners Andrews Aldridge’s planning team, says that creative agencies are “the guardians“ of a brand when it comes to life.

“For us, being able to pick up the phone to the planner on the McDonald’s or the Butlins account, for example, and talk about the brand, about its values and how they want it to come to life, that really helps us. It means that our ideas and responses to a brief can be much richer and, frankly, much better aligned with what we know the brand wants to do.

“One of the things that we are privileged to be able to do at ITV is take a helicopter view of what’s going on in culture. Based on my experience at creative agencies, that stuff is gold.”

As well as providing enabling a more accurate service for the clients of both companies, Waters says that closer collaboration with creative shops can better differentiate ITV as a media partner. “For straightforward ad campaigns, ITV’s role is to give you as much reach and breadth as you can. But if you look at eBay and Love Island for example, the role of ITV there is to essentially create a cultural backdrop and normalize the idea of pre-loved fashion and put eBay at the heart of that.”

Twinning can also benefit the professional lives of those involved says Sussman. “Young planners are better when they are sharing with a wide network of people and they’re not so locked in. Particularly as we come out of Covid and we’re all going back to different ways of working, networks have never been more important.”

Waters adds: “The planning community is growing and is flourishing thanks to the APG [Account Planning Group], but it’s brilliant for planners to get to know each other, to give them a network in the industry.”

Sussman and Waters are still seeing how the initiative pans out before thinking about setting up further partnerships, with Sussman suggesting that other companies could benefit from the practice. “There is absolutely nothing stopping any company from twinning with another in this informal way. It just takes an amount of confidence, openness and generosity. I can only see gains for people in doing it.”

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