Media is now firmly at the top table

It has been 21 years since the first Campaign Media Awards and excellence in media thinking remains strong.

This year is the 21st anniversary of the Campaign Media Awards and last night’s winners lived up to the original aim of the awards, which was "inspiring and rewarding excellence in media thinking".

Back in 1998, it was an exciting time of disruption as media decoupled from creative and a new breed of media agencies including Mindshare and Walker Media (now known as Blue 449) made their debut.

Leap forward 21 years and excellence in media thinking – ideas, innovation and strategic thinking – was on display at these awards.

PG One, Publicis Groupe’s bespoke unit that combines media, creative and data under one roof for Procter & Gamble, won Agency Team of the Year and showed how agencies can always make themselves newly relevant by following a simple course of action: reorganising around what the client wants.

Goodstuff Communications, an independent agency that only moved into buying in 2012, was the most awarded agency after picking up four awards, including the Grand Prix for "The honeypot poster network", an innovative, data-driven, digital out-of-home campaign for insurer Hiscox.

And there was other strong work that was recognised at the awards dinner at the Hilton Park Lane in London.

MediaCom North collected two prizes for its partnership work for online fashion retailer Missguided on ITV’s Love Island – an important sign that shows how Manchester and the north-west have become a hub for a new breed of homegrown digital economy businesses.

PHD won two awards for "Rammed with confidence", its creatively challenging campaign for Volkswagen’s T-Roc, that involves a ram physically "breaking out" of the confines of rectangular formats such as an out-of-home poster and a print display ad.

And The Guardian picked up three gongs, including Commercial Team of the Year, as its focus on brand partnerships with clients such as TSB and eBay paid off – proof that media owners can prosper in the age of the Google/Facebook duopoly by building deeper relationships with advertisers.

This time of disruption feels like a watershed shift like the end of the 1990s – a golden opportunity for new companies to emerge and for existing players to reorganise.

The media and creative disciplines are moving closer again because technology is driving it and clients are demanding it. However, media is no longer just the cheeky upstart that lurks in the basement. 

As Caroline Foster Kenny, chair of the judges and EMEA chief executive of IPG Mediabrands, told the audience last night: "I’m excited by the notion that, in the broader marketing context, for media our time has come. Finally – at long last – media has reached that top table.

"We’re no longer the rushed five minutes at the end of the presentation. Quite the opposite: we’re increasingly the catalyst of the conversation, whereby media is the strategic lever, being recognised for the value it can drive, fuelling real brand and business growth for our clients."

Or as another agency leader put it last night: clients are turning to media agencies for higher-level conversations about business planning, not just media planning, because media, marketing and data are increasingly the fuel of the digital economy.

The UK advertising industry and wider business still face plenty of challenges.

All eight indicative votes on Brexit were rejected by MPs in the House of Commons as the Campaign Media Awards were taking place and the spectre of an economic downturn looms.

Big agency groups continue to find it hard to adapt to a new world of greater media buying transparency and clients in-housing some services, although there has undoubtedly been some progress on transparency in the past couple of years after a wave of client reviews.

And advertising revenue growth for most media owners remains tough when Google and Facebook dominate digitally – although, it should be noted, the two tech giants didn’t feature much in the winning work at the Campaign Media Awards.

Still, change is always coming. The arrival of TikTok, the hot Chinese social media company, as an ad sales proposition in the UK was a talking point at last night’s awards dinner.

Media has always thrived on start-up fever. When Phil Georgiadis, co-founder of Walker Media, who steps down this week after 21 years, was setting up his agency in 1998, he told Campaign in a front-page story: "This is about having fun doing something from scratch."

And now media is at the top table.

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