“The Shit Slinging Between Media & Creative Agencies Is Not Helpful”: The Works’ Damian Pincus

“The Shit Slinging Between Media & Creative Agencies Is Not Helpful”: The Works’ Damian Pincus

He’s the founder and creative partner of independent creative agency The Works and here Damian Pincus tells B&T that the mud slinging in the industry is starting to do more harm than good…

There appears a fair bit of tension at the moment between media buyers and creative agencies. How much do you subscribe to the idea that they’re too far apart, they should come back together under the one roof?
My first job in Australia was with J. Walter Thompson and we had the creative department and the media buying department all on one floor; and, yes, I think that’s where clients want to go. 

That’s not going to work for every agency though, is it?
No. But (at The Works) we go out of our way to ensure that the whole relationship with media is very, very strong whoever it is because we think that creative is, quite often, more important than media. What’s the best messaging? What’s the best medium to get that message across? So, I think that creative and media do need to get back together or certainly closer together.

It’s easier for the internationals – take the newly merged STW and WPP, as an example – than, say, an independent like The Works?
Yeah, the big international agencies can afford to have planners and buyers sitting in their creative agencies and they all work together as the one team. However, contrary to that, I see the challenge in this market is that good, creative people don’t want to go and work for media agencies. Are creative agencies going to hire media people? It’s expensive. There are some agencies, Lowe as an example, who have media in house, but I think a lot of clients would be questioning their ability and skill as a media agency because they don’t necessarily have what’s required to do a great creative prop. I think we’re at this funny point with the scale of the market here, if you look at creative agencies and media agencies, it’s difficult to work out how it will work.

The media agencies are increasingly playing in the creative space; GroupM’s MediaCom a case in point. Do you see those guys as a threat?
I think media agencies will continue to try and do that but will they be able to attract the quality of creative people to do the job? Media agencies have tried to play in this space for the past decade and tried to set-up some sort of creative shop. PHD has done it, GroupM has done it, OMD has done it, but they’ve not successfully recruited top creative talent.

So you’re saying merging the two is a good idea even if the results typically turn out to be underwhelming?
It can work. Go back 20 years and agencies had their media people sitting next to their creative people; they were all on the same floor. When I was at TBWA we had a relationship with the media agency and we had one of their guys sitting in our office the whole time. Maybe that’s the solution, where the big media agencies come to an independent like us and say, “Right, we want to make sure you have a great media offering to your clients, we could then potentially install someone into your business full-time who looks after your clients in tandem with us”. That would be an interesting solution. The cost of getting all the media tools is very, very expensive.

If the industry doesn’t get this right, could it spell the end for some of those traditional-styled businesses?
If you talk to any strategist, the ones who do all the thinking, and I was speaking to one recently and they said if we don’t sort this out soon media companies will be in deep shit because programmatic buying will take huge quantities away; although we’re still three or four years away from what that could look like. The only thing they (the media companies) will have to offer clients will be the thinkers, the strategists. But what will become even more apparent is that when programmatic takes off and clients move to what I call ‘direct media’ – digital channels that can be tested and learned – you’ll need amazing people to make that work. We’ve got clients and we’re doing new style creative marketing, it’s digital and we’re testing and learning what piece of creative is working with what medium.

The Works positions itself as a very data-centric agency. But is data at odds to creative thinking? Creatives, typically, don’t exactly like being told how to think…
What creative people love are fantastic insights and that’s what data gives you, it makes the message you’re trying to tell much more pointed. The best campaigns these days are successful because they have the insights absolutely right and that’s come out of great data. And that can be researching consumers or looking at genuine data.

You still see plenty of shit ads though?
Yeah, but good data doesn’t always mean great creativity. I think that’s the conundrum and it’s about getting good data with great insights connected with great creative thinkers and it’s then you’ll get great results and you’ll get great work.

New MediaCom boss Sean Seamer recently told B&T, in a contrary argument to what you are saying, that it would be the creative agencies that would struggle into the future. Primarily as things turned from TVCs to digital and there were more media agencies playing in the space.
Well, 60 per cent of our (The Works’) revenues come from digital and direct; 10 per cent is television. Most modern, progressive creative agencies aren’t making a lot of television, they’re certainly making a lot of content that’s not appearing on TV. What pisses me off about the media agencies is that they have this weird view of creative agencies that we’re sitting around making TV commercials and that’s not what we do. We haven’t been doing it for the past fucking eight or nine years. And, yes, we probably have a slightly polarised view of media people that they’re all sitting around filling in boxes and going out for lunches with Channel Seven and that’s probably not the case anymore either. It’s a lot more sophisticated in terms of how they operate. But I think the biggest issue that media companies have got that I hear through clients is their inability to measure the results especially in the digital space. How well is that media spend working?

B&T interviewed (WWP AUNZ’s) John Steedman last week and he agreed that it had become a buyer’s market, that the power’s swung back to the advertiser. How much would you agree with that?
If you’re a media guy that’s what you would say. Because they come from the world of the four stations – Seven, Nine, Ten and SBS – and that’s where clients want to put all their ads. But again, the world in the last sort of eight years has moved on dramatically and we’ve got other platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Foxtel, Stan etc, etc…

But if you want mass market then it’s still hard to beat free-to-air?
If you want mass market you go to Facebook. Some 18 million people in Australia are on Facebook. We did an ad for Panadol and it got eight million views on Facebook in six weeks in Australia.

Has the industry become too rancorous, everyone’s protecting their own interests at the detriment of others?
I think what B&T should do, which would be fucking useful, the shit-slinging between media agencies and creative agencies is not helpful. What would be helpful would be for people to get in a room and actually talk about the future that we’re actually creating rather than everybody having a go at each other. I think it’s about us all getting together and working out our own future. When you’re an independent that’s an easy thing to do as you don’t have a vested interest. If you’re GroupM or this new WPP group they’ve obviously got interests in their own portfolio and area of brands and people need to think bigger and more holistically about the future and work it out. We (The Works) are an independent agency and we have big clients and they can’t isolate themselves from that. We need to get in a room and discuss it. You get (WWP AUNZ’s) Steedman, (The Monkeys’) Mark Green, you get me, you get the people from Ogilvy, whoever; you just get them in a room and discuss what the future could look like.

Isn’t that the Comms Council’s job?
The Comms Council are probably doing it. The industry for me lacks holistic leadership which you would expect from the Comms Council but they’re not there yet. They need to be visionary, show leadership, show what the future of the industry looks like and that should be part of their role. It’s not there so it has to be done by us as individuals; the advertising industry is very bad at doing it. People need to have a more holistic view rather than just pushing their barrow. The other part of the problem is that the people in big multinational agencies look on independents as, “Oh, they’re just the independents, we’re the big, powerful ones because we’ve got a billion dollars worth of revenue” and I think that’s a very sad situation to be in. And again I think the media guys are very trained like that; they’ve always judged their success on who has the most amount of billings. It’s like, “I’m GroupM and I’ve got a billion dollars worth of billings” and we need to fucking get rid of that shit and focus on the betterment of our industry because our industry is really shit at promoting our industry. We’re really good at having a go at each other.

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