Comment: Is the full service agency coming back?

As 2017 draws to a close, is Indian advertising bringing back the good old days?

Dec 07, 2017 10:15:00 AM | Article | Sandeep Goyal

Prasad Sangameshwaran, the Editor of Campaign India, and I were having this nice little conversation this morning after MullenLowe announced the launch of the Lintas MediaHub. We both wondered if life in the agency business had come full circle in 20 years: is the full service agency coming back?
The conversation with Prasad set me thinking. The Lintas press release is actually quite strongly worded : Lintas Mediahub aims to offer a counterpoint to the current crop of monolithic, volume hungry, singularly data obsessed media agency models. Vikas Mehta, the Lintas guy in fact is fairly incisive when he says, “The separation of creative and media in the past two decades has gradually sucked ideas out of the media business. Media innovations have been largely ‘standardised’ and whilst there are some breakthroughs, they are few and far between”.
The Lintas positioning seems centred around re-positioning existing media agencies. Which is not what I would have liked to hear. I think Lintas are onto something good. There is power, and possibilities, in what they are trying to do. Except, instead of gunning for the media agencies, Lintas should have been talking positive : talking about bringing back the combined and unified firepower of the ‘full-service’ agency.
I was perhaps the last of the moghuls to head a ‘full-service’ agency when I ran Dentsu India till 2011. By that time, every Western agency had visibly separated the creative and media businesses under distinctly separate banners and brand names. In fact, I was considered an anachronism ... covertly criticised by many of my peers for persisting with a full-service agency model. I felt that a single-window agency had a far better understanding of a client’s business, and was far more empathetic to the needs of the brand. At Maruti Suzuki, for example, the retail experience was becoming as big an issue as brand communication. My team worked on creating a 30,000 square feet flagship store at Maruti’s new HQ at Vasant Kunj ... a precursor to the current Nexa showrooms. Similarly, signing up MS Dhoni for Aircel, or signing up Chennai Super Kings for the brand or the famous ‘1411 tigers left’ campaign for Save the Tiger for Aircel were not just creative or media campaigns ... they were unified ‘full-service’ efforts. Alas, Dentsu too abandoned the ‘full-service’ model in India soon after my exit, though back home in Japan Dentsu remains fully integrated and single-faced to clients.
One, I think, the full-service agency is coming back. Two, I think, it is a good idea. 
The recent appointment of CVL Srinivas as Country Head of WPP where-in he will have the heads of all WPP creative agencies too reporting in to him eventually, is indicative of green-shoots in the come-back of the full-service model. It may not be the same ad agency that I joined 33 years ago, but, it would be a close clone. 
The reason I am a strong votary for the ‘full-service’ agency is because I think principally, and intrinsically, communication could not and should not ever have been dismembered. Creative outputs suffered from lack of understanding of the media end-use; media suffered as it became more and more numerical and got isolated from the creative process. Actually the client suffered the most. ‘Specialisation’ became a mere apology for dividing the business. Excuse my saying it but the Roda Mehtas and Ketaki Guptes of yesteryears were no less media savvy or media-embedded than their current counterparts. 
It is still early days. The new full-service model may still take years to fully take shape. But we are surely going back to the good ole days. To one big happy family. Thank you Lintas for bringing back the past, and making it the future.
(Sandeep Goyal is a good trend-watcher and extrapolator. He has been witness to much change in the three decades he has been in advertising.)
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