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Best New Thinking Winner 2010

Space Race

5 jim taylor sticks his neck out

Here’s an exclusive interview with Jim Taylor. Jim Taylor is Planning Partner at Mediaedge:CIA. He founded Nota Bene one of the first media strategy agencies in the world. When he was bought out he moved from South Africa to the UK to work for the parent company in an international capacity. His book Space Race was published in Oct 2005.

You can read my review of The Space Race below. Click here to read the review.

buy the book – listen to the interview – read the review

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Listen to the Space Race Interview
The following audio clips come from an interview I conducted with Jim Taylor on Oct 14th 2005 at Mediaedge:CIA. You will really need broadband to listen to the interview. The figures attached to the questions give an indication of file size – about 1 megabyte per minute as a guideline. Click on the icons to hear the mp3 files play back.

playAnyone who makes predictions for comms in the next 15 years is either very clever or very foolhardy – where would you put yourself between those extremes? (840K)

play Everyone seems to have been talking about integration, media neutral planning and channel neutral marketing for years. Are we making any progress? (893K)

play How would you define comms planning? (689K)

play What has changed for the media companies? Are they getting smarter? Have they bought in new talent? Or have they just reinvented themselves with new job titles? (1.1MB)

play In chapter 4 you do a review of the fleet – with lots of name namechecks. Who are the companies most likely to to succeed? And do you have any personal favourites? (1.1MB)

play You predict the invention of a device you call the soul meter which completely changes the possibilities of measurement. Can you explain? (1.8MB)

play Why do you think the balance will shift so decisively towards datahouses – do you think they have added much other than complexity and cost?(633K)

play What do you think of the threat to the comms business from the rest of the creative industries and in particular branded entertainment? (1.8Mb)

play In the Antarctica chapter you basically say that clients are going to take back comms planning – surely its cheaper for them to farm it out and kick the agencies into doing it for them rather than doing it properly and risking getting caught? What is going to change? (982K)

play You say that in a few years ad agencies are going to have to choose between firing the creative department or firing the planning department to stay in business. Can you explain why? (2MB)

play How can comms planning and creative planning be balanced? (1.4MB)

play At the 2005 APG awards Richard Huntington described creative agencies as the natural home of planning? How would you react to that? (1.3MB)

play Have you ever worked in the account planning department of an ad agency? Have you ever been a member of a trade body such as the Account Planning Group? (1.6MB)

Review of the space race

I should I suppose declare a bit of an interest here since Jim did ask me to read the manuscript last Easter bank holiday. And it is exceedingly unusual for a reviewer to diss a book in which they have been quoted! Having worked with well over a dozen integrated agencies in various guises I am now used to hearing the claim that no one has cracked integrated communications but they have. And these boasts are quite untestable because no one is willing to step up to the plate to say what their methodology is and why it has delivered better results than developing comms channels independently. Well Jim hasn’t written a text book. He’s done something much more dangerous. He’s looked at what comms planning needs to deliver for clients to adopt it wholesale. And having evaluated the players in the marketplace he then runs what can only be described as a kind of extrapolated scenario forecast which predicts what is going to happen to the various types of agencies as they vy for position and how their own structures will push them forward or doom them to failure.

It is of course a work of fiction as any piece of prediction must be. Only he has taken the trouble to interview 28 figures from clientside through ad agencies right across the spectrum to media agencies, media consultancies and management consultancies. So there’s nothing fanciful about it. The early chapters lay a solid foundation on what comms planning is, what it delivers clients, and why it has taken so long to deliver on the promise. There’s a review of the fleet in chapter 4 which everyone is going to go straight to to see if their agency gets a mention. And an audit to look at the pros and cons for each agency model. And then we’re off on a helter skelter journey from 2005 right through past 2020 (surely the first of many books which will do optical puns on that particular date). On this journey all of the cast have a role. The data houses come to the fore, ad agencies finally fall apart under margin pressures and have to choose between their production and their strategic functions. Ad agencies become production shops or ideas shops. In the final movement clients decide they’ve had enough of all of this and take comms planning firmly by the scruff of the neck and move it inhouse.

Now whether or not you buy this version of events it’s a hell of a space opera. And if you want to prove Jim wrong you’re going to have to provide an alternative account. With a rationale. Clients are going to fall over themselves to get into this book. Because it will allow them to rehearse the issues their agencies really don’t want them thinking too hard about.

Space Race lays out a thesis. Inevitably you’re going to disagree with it. I think he overplays the power of the data houses – the more number crunching power they get the more complex the primary data becomes and cancels out the advantages. I would also have liked to see coverage of the effect of communications groups where ownership of high profile diminishing margin ad agencies is offset by media agencies which deliver wafer thin margins but cash in abundance, and higher margin market research and consultancy business. These structures will keep ad agencies alive long past the sell by date of the 30 second TV spot. Only last week I had lunch with a senior media figure who said that despite being independent of a comms group it was just too dangerous to antagonize advertising agencies so there was a conspiracy of silence over mediocre work that wasn’t delivering the numbers. And communications is about more than number crunching. Branded content and entertainment is set to erode advertising’s share of the budget just as direct marketing did during the 1990s. But this is to carp – we’re not going to get an official version sponsored by a communications group. A piece of academia wouldn’t keep up with the speed of change. So Space Race is a personal viewpoint from an industry insider who understands comms planning intimately, someone who has worked inside major international networks such as Ogilvy and run his own successful comms planning startup.

We also need to note that Jim Taylor is not and never has been an account planner. This is the first book about comms planning not written by someone from an account planning background. Account/Advertising/Creative planning is nearly 40 years old. It is now a critical function within most mainstream agencies and increasingly being adopted clientside. It is significant – though perhaps with the significance of one(!) that Jim thinks that communications planning is different from account planning. Planning is at a cross roads. It has to decide if it will expand into this wider field embracing all the quantative and research disciplines required for combining many 10s of different communication channels together. Or it can pull the wagons closer together and evaluate itself primarily on the value it delivers briefing creative people. Space Race is a challenge on several levels. Whether any or all of it will come true it will get you thinking. And if you’re new to comms planning it is a great primer without losing you in the minutiae of how it’s done.

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