We need to talk about Gruen…

I love Gruen. Always have, and probably always will. It’s a show that I’m naturally drawn to working in the industry, but it’s also a show that provides relevant and topical commentary to engage a wider audience. Wil Anderson is one of the funniest comedians in Australia and the juxtaposing opinions of Todd Sampson and Russell Howcroft makes for great television. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Todd with his liberal, socially-aware views sits to the left of camera, while Russell with his staunch support of capitalism and market forces sits to the right… Classic ABC.

However, since coming back from hiatus, something has been bugging me about Gruen. The structure is basically the same, as is the content… admittedly they have replaced one piece of eye candy (Putin) for another (Trump) but this change isn’t the one I was hoping for. What’s bugging me is that they seem to just focus on half of the advertising equation – creative. Now, this would be completely fine if the topics they spoke about were areas of influence that solidly reside in creative agency territory (e.g. developing creative concepts, casting for TVCs, etc). Yet, over the past few years they have been straying into areas that fit quite firmly within the media camp. In this current season, there’s an entire segment called “Target Audience” where the panellists dissect and comment on a certain piece of communication, and provide their opinion as to who the corresponding audience is, and where/how to engage with them.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Russell, Todd or any of the guest panellists are not equipped to answer questions that I believe have a media tilt to them – they obviously are and they do a good job at it. What bugs me is the lack of representation of media agency talent. This article will not descend into a boring and predicable “us versus them” debate but I am genuinely interested in why this is the case. I have contacted Gruen’s production company, Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder and asked them how they select their panellists but I’m yet to hear back.

Look, I get it – in many cases, perception equals reality. “Advertising” (read: creative agencies) are glamorous, slick and trendy. Media agencies are nerdy, dry and dull. Creatives are the Jaimie to our Tyrion, the Ben Affleck to our Matt Damon… the Jim to our Dwight. Furthermore, if you asked somebody off the street what advertising people do, the overwhelming response will be: “they make ads”. This is the problem. On balance, creative agencies have ruled the roost. In the past during client presentations, discussion, analysis and debate focused on the creative concept while the poor media guy was given ten minutes at the very end to talk about his channel plan.

Fast-forward to the unbundling that occurred at the turn of the century and media agencies have become more important and valuable than ever before. It’s the old adage: knowledge is power. We have the insights – reinforced by data and science – to justify our recommendations. We have the competency to not only be creative, but use that creativity within the context of media and data to deliver quantifiable business results for clients. This is what I think Gruen fails to realise. We will inevitably overtake creative as the lead agency due to two main reasons:

  1. The stratospheric rate of advancement in media capabilities
  2. The investment we’re making to harness and leverage said capabilities for clients

As such, media agencies deserve a mainstream platform to promote themselves and the great work they do. Todd and Russell are now household names because of Gruen and I have no doubt students have watched the show and committed themselves to a career in creative because of it. I (with obvious bias) believe media is as exciting (if not more so) than creative but the questions remain. How many people are we losing to creative agencies because they have no idea media exists? How much more insightful will Gruen become if there are opinions from the other side of the advertising fence?

The reality is that media has become so much more than a ten minute channel plan spiel at the end of a presentation. Gruen knows this and I have no doubt we’re going to see more and more media discussions pop up on the show. All I’m asking is for fair representation of media agency talent. Gruen, I’ll be here waiting for your call back.

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