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The 'reunification' of media and creative: learnings from the coalface

By Jamie Elliott, CEO

June 26, 2019 | 5 min read

Look beyond the jargon-filled conversations around brand purpose, ‘storyliving’ and other Cannes subjects that have dominated the headlines over the past few weeks, and you’ll find that back at home, agencies are focusing on the more pressing day-to-day issues. For example, building an offer that actually keeps them relevant.

Desk with laptops

The unification of media & creative

One of the most interesting moves of the past month has, for this reason, been the new joint venture between The 7 Stars and M&C Saatchi, which reports say promises ‘the reunification of media and creative’.

It’s a move that will involve new offices, new job roles, new propositions. It interests me because it’s not Cannes chatter – it’s action. But it also interests me because ‘the reunification of media and creative’ implies that in the past they were gloriously united.

Yes, there was an era well before the internet where ‘full-service’ agencies existed. But these agencies would have a strong pecking order, and media folk were definitely the second-class citizens who were hidden away in the bowels of buildings and relegated to the last 5 minutes of any significant presentation.

Few, therefore, complained when their department was cleaved off to become a separate company. And it means that, if media and creative are to be united in any company now, the past is no template for success.

We joined The Gate as a new leadership team two years ago, precisely because the agency was one of very few in the industry that offered media and creative under one roof. We believed that this was going to be a winning formula at a time when big agencies struggle to restructure to meet changing client needs.

In the two years since we came together, there have been some lessons we’ve learnt that are worth sharing to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated as the market grows.

It’s a mindset thing

The goal is to get somewhere, together, that neither discipline can get to on its own. So, it’s imperative that everyone is open-minded, actively listens to other views, and is willing to change their mind. We talk about a ‘boundless’ mindset and it is the most important aspect of our culture.

Ignore process at your peril

Coming largely from creative agency backgrounds, our inclination was to encourage messiness and avoid process. We were wrong. Process is 100% required to resolve the needs of folk with extreme right and left brain needs. A bit of process reduces anxiety, helps orientate people, ensures they know what’s required of them, keeps the dialogue going and gives it the best chance of being a collective endeavour from beginning to end.

The outcome is the best place to start

Agreeing on the desired outcome(s) at the outset is critical and provides a guiding star for any unified project. Don’t set-off on the journey without agreement on the destination.

It takes time to talk the same language

Some people are fluent in feeding back on creative ideas. Others specialise in scrutinising channel plans and discussing performance metrics. The languages are as different as the tones they’re spoken in. Misinterpretations are frequent and spectacular. Over time a new, shared language develops. But it doesn’t happen overnight.

Hire misfits

Not everyone will flourish in these cultures. They ask a lot of people. It requires active listening, a desire to learn and willingness to change behaviour. But, it’s a great home for those who don’t like to be slotted into the boxes big agencies want to put them in and who are more at home in the grey areas where ideas and the means of getting people to them collide.

So where do we land? The inconvenient truth is that the blending of different skillsets will always be a work-in-progress, never a static unified state. M&C and the7stars are about to embark on a very exciting and potentially very successful journey. But success won’t come overnight.

Jamie Elliott is the chief executive officer of The Gate


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