Is the agency media department all washed up?

Herbert Zeltner
Founder, Herbert Zeltner, Inc.

A week ago, I mentioned to the media director of one of the ten largest agencies in our business that I was planning to discuss with you today whether the agency media department was all washed up. He ruefully suggested that I just say “yes” and sit down.

To me, that exchange epitomizes how tragically overblown and misunderstood the whole question of the agency's media role at this time has become. And aggravating the issue considerably is the tendency of some members of our trade press to overplay and overwrite for effect, taking some isolated facts and a few opinions and whipping up a good story or editorial comment.

Here are two examples which have appeared in recent weeks:

“Agency media departments are in trouble. More trouble than some of them seem to realize. One after another of their functions – basic, historic functions – are slipping away from them. Going to outside media specialists to time-buying organizations … to advertisers themselves who feel they can get better buys, more efficiency, better targeting by negotiating buys themselves. Agencies are watching some of their top time buyers leave to go into the enemy camp. They are seeing their computerized operations closed down and turned over to outside services. They are standing by helplessly while basic media decisions are being made often without their even being told. And within the agency media departments – morale is low because salaries are low, work is hard and the 'back office' image of their role is seldom appreciated by co-workers or management.”