Not Paying Attention? Sorry, You’re Disintermediated.

Meredith. It’s not the sexiest name in the book, but in today’s media and marketing services circles, Meredith has legs that don’t quit. To see them, go to and look at their top level navigation. Do you see how “Media Portfolio” and “Marketing Solutions” live right next door to one another? That’s the ticket.
According to Ad Age, Meredith is Kraft Foods’ agency of record for customer relationship marketing. Yes, the publisher of Ladies Home Journal is eating some agency’s lunch, right now.
It’s a relationship that has other clients thinking, as well. Gary Elliott, VP-corporate marketing at Hewlett-Packard, indicated his interest in working with Meredith or Time Warner.

What’s lacking in agency relationships now is speed to market, Mr. Elliott said. “I don’t think with our current system we’re achieving that. … We’re going to pilot a number of different relationships where we go direct with media companies.”
John Harrobin, senior VP-marketing and digital media for Verizon Communications, echoed Mr. Elliott’s thoughts on going direct to media companies.
“I don’t think you can be a top-20 or -30 advertiser and not have that relationship with media companies,” he said.
“If I were an agency, I would be really worried about being disintermediated,” said Becky Saeger, CMO of Charles Schwab.

What’s it all mean? It means our buddies who work in media have marketing solutions up their sleeves, and they know how to make the sell, close to the customer as they are. Imagine that you’re a brand manager at Kraft and it’s your job to sell Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to housewives in Des Moines. You’ve been entertaining a lot of lookers, as it were, then a savvy media company based in Des Moines comes along and says, “we can help you talk to your customers.” It’s powerful and believable.

What should agencies do? Bolster their media practices, for one. What else, though? In my own career, I’ve been on a mission to transform the agency by bringing content production in-house. To me, it’s the other side of the media company question—can agencies find, or make, the kind of compelling content made in media companies and in Hollywood? I know there are some in the ad biz, who think we can’t compete in the content arena. I think we can, and I know there are many stories to be told. Every brand has one.
Perhaps there were people inside Meredith who had doubts about being able to compete in marketing services. That’s natural. What I’m getting at is this: companies have stories to tell and brand lifestyles to support. Someone’s going to tell these stories for a profit. It can be old school agencies, or new school agencies that don’t go by the name “agency” at all. Clearly, the answer is also going to come from outside the agency structure and the agency business itself will continue to morph and evolve. There are already agencies who own and operate media brands (and non-media brands, for that matter), and there will be more media companies like Meredith who own and operate successful marketing services firms. As it should be. May the best storytellers win.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.