R/GA Formalizes Media Practice, Hires Up

Interpublic Group’s R/GA is expanding its media practice to include media buying, and now it needs a few good men and women.

Ann Benvenuto, R/GA’s executive VP for strategic services, said one of the challenges involved in the move to procurement will be finding talented and experienced people to staff the new team as it grows. Clearly, R/GA expects that growth to come as existing and prospective clients see the benefits of a one-stop shop.

“We are looking for more media people,” said Benvenuto. “We’re hoping they’ll be attracted to R/GA. We are known for our creative experience and we hope to have the same standards, if not beyond, in the media space.”

Already R/GA has attracted one person well known in media buying circles: former Agency.com employee Joy Lin, who will serve as media director. The 31-year-old Lin reports to Ken O’Donnell, the agency’s group media director, hired in 2004.

O’Donnell has played a big part in expanding R/GA’s communication planning. For the past three years, R/GA has been building its planning practice to include both strategic and media planning which will now be complemented by the new media buying activities.

O’Donnell’s team supports what R/GA calls its “universal planning” model, which strives to erase the barriers between the company’s planning disciplines. Under the arrangement, strategic and media planners take part in the entire creative process, according to R/GA.

Buyers will not be left out of the loop since they will be integrated into R/GA’s “client teams” and will work with the company’s creative directors, technologists and strategic planners. “Media is part of the strategic services organization at R/GA,” said Benvenuto. “That means it includes both strategic planning as well as a data group that does analytics and forecasting and measures the value of what we plan. Media is part of the same organization as those two other departments and that, in itself, is very different in the industry.”

Lin is responsible for developing programs that include unique content partnerships, rich media display advertising, search marketing and mobile advertising, said the company. Lin appears to have the perfect background for the job, having been media director for Agency.com’s New York office where she oversaw the creation of brand awareness and direct response campaigns for entities including Discovery Chanel, Choice Hotels and Fisher Price. Li spearheaded the Discovery Channel’s multi-faceted “Shark Week” online campaign as well as a Fisher-Price direct response effort that tripled the company’s client database in less than two years.

R/GA’s drive into media echoes a similar move undertaken in January by AKQA. Best known for creative services, AKQA hired Agency.com’s Scott Symonds to bolster its media and search business.
The moves illustrate a growing reluctance by digital agencies to outsource media procurement, and Benvenuto asserted R/GA’s decision to bring media buying in-house will make for happier customers.

“It eliminates the need to go outside, which results in much tighter integration between media planning, strategic planning and the creative,” she said. Benvenuto would not reveal which R/GA clients will first be using the new media services, nor would she predict the level of billings it will bring.

“We are already working across a couple of our clients and we expect, now that we are growing this, that we can offer it to more of our clients going forward,” said Benvenuto. “It’s growing as we speak.”

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