whilst it may be premature to suggest the media agency planning and buying model is about to become redundant, a new search engine's aspiration to become "the Google for media planning" should surely provide food for thought for those of us who spend a few minutes each day meditating on the future of communications planning.
Steve Roest, who blogs at Open House, has pointed me in the direction of Balihoo, an engine who's spiders have, for the last few years, searched the web and logged online - and offline - media properties available for purchase by either media buyers or clients direct. Ad Age's Media Morph describe the model thus:
"A marketer or media planner can enter a category or genre -- say, kayaking -- and it'll return all the media properties about kayaking, as well as related media with similar demographic profiles -- including ones that might not be included in or subscribe to traditional media-planning tools ... While some marketers might do Google searches, Balihoo refines results to include only properties where advertisers can buy media." (see the full article here)
in a world of unprecedented media fragmentation, the proposition of an engine that will return a comprehensive list of all related media spaces to a brand or subject is an attractive one. but that is to miss the point. there are several central objections to the suggestion that this means the end for agencies...
firstly, if media planning as a discipline was the amalgamation of media opportunities, a search engine could do it; it would indeed aid the disintermediation of the media agency, giving clients and marketers the power to find and buy media space according to their needs.
but not all media opportunities are created equal, and whilst Balihoo may offer a valuable starting point for initial exploration of a brief, what it won't do is give credible guarantees of the value of one opportunity versus the other. it is arguably - to quote (the rarely wrong) JRT Smith - a tool for those that understand "the cost of everything and the value of nothing".
secondly but more fundamentally, using a search engine for media planning alone relies on the push model of media planning. a model which suggests that by reaching as many of the right people most of the time brands can attempt to build or change the set of associations as required by the marketer.
but thats a pretty outdated model. the role of media planning is not to hit as many people over the head with an advertising message, in as many places, as possible; but rather to make a value judgment so that the places and spaces in which brands are seen are not only relevant, but add implicit value to the advertising message by the very virtue of being seen in those spaces.
and thats not - fortunately - something a search engine can do. yet. it's not even - to give Balihoo's ambition of creating a scoring system where agencies and clients can rate opportunities - something an online community can yet do. value judgments always have to be made within the context of the brief and brand in question. the agency model is safe for a while yet, but only - it should be said - for those agencies that do more than list opportunities - it's one thing to know the cost of media space, quite another to know it's value to a brand.