Ad Execs Weigh In on the Importance of Media Choice vs. Creative Moxie

Since the beginning of human existence, there has been one quintessential question that has never ceased to be debated over: Which came first—the chicken or the egg?

With avid supporters and challenging arguments on either side, I’m not holding my breath that I’ll ever see a definitive answer to this in my lifetime. While this dispute is centered on the small and insignificant speculations of, oh you know, the creation of our population, another debate has surfaced as an equally significant contender.

Well, at least within the advertising world.

Which comes first—or is more important—media planning or creative strategy?

The heavily deliberated topic—usually behind closed-door meetings or in blog posts like this one—catapulted into the forefront of industry chatter after a discussion during one of The Wall Street Journal Viewpoints breakfasts in April.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP, a multinational advertising and public relations agency, took the opportunity to discuss his stance on the matter. Citing the content activation play for AT&T done with, Sorrel stated that the era of “Mad Men” is over, and that now, more than ever, media planning is more important than creative.

Well, yes, the era of this Mad Men-esque ad world has been over for 25 years now, there’s no arguing with him on that front.

But, in the aftermath of his statement that “creative does not just reside with creators—it can also come from data people,” how have other advertising executives sounded off on this idea that media trumps creative?

There’s been no shortage of responses…

One of the go-to sources of marketing discussion and debate, The Agency Post, gathered some of these thoughts from within the industry:

Steve Schildwachter, EVP, Chief Marketing Officer, rVue, Inc.

“The choice of media matters just as much as creative, if not more.

My definition of ‘media’ encompasses all the ways consumers and brands may connect with one another—paid, owned, earned, and not-yet-invented. Because there are so many options, the choice of media has real consequences for the advertiser’s ROI.

Does that mean media trumps creative? No. Nothing matters if the creative work doesn’t connect the consumer and the brand. But it’s impossible to develop creative without knowing where it’s going, because the idea must adapt to fit the medium that activates it.

Both media and creative matter, but the industry has artificially separated them. In fact, it seems like they’ve been apart for so long that they’ve forgotten each other. We can change that, and drive results, by working on them simultaneously.”

Robert Harwood-Matthews, President, TBWA Chiat Day New York

“It might be an issue of scale. At the level of the click we crave accuracy, messaging is hacked at, changed in real time, fluid to the nuances of actual behavior. The immediate creative plays servant. At the other end of the spectrum, it is reversed—the delivery supports and enhances the action, playing at a deeper level.

With the Internet of things and a seamless digital environment, our skill lies in recognizing the idea versus the tactic, what is worth slaving over versus what is automatic. We cannot value one over the other, nor can we seek in business to put it all back together—this is just sentimental. An engineer would understand. At one end it’s all about precision; at the other it’s about what it all adds up to.


Knowing how divided and unsettled the top executives in the industry are may have validated my own uncertainty, but it didn’t stop me from diving deeper into the debate.

So, I decided to continue the conversation by talking directly with the two industry leaders who—despite their very different positions within this space—are instrumental in piecing together my own understanding of the inner workings of the advertising ecosystem.

Steve Connelly, President & Founder, Connelly Partners

“The reality is that media planning is more important than it ever was. It’s critical to get a message in front of a prospect at the right time in the right place. With so many more media channels to choose from, there are more opportunities to connect, and picking the right mix of channels is literally the science of success.

BUT at the end of the day, if the strategy makes the assumption it will gain people’s attention rather than earning people’s attention with creativity, it will be a waste of money. Period.

In a few years, maybe even months, the shine of a new channel will wear off and people will not care about the novelty, only the creativity.

Ours will forever be a content business. And the caliber and creativity of that content will always separate the successful campaign from the not successful, and the successful agency from the not successful.”

Jay Singh, Founder & CEO, ViralGains

“I believe that the creative and media buy are of an equal importance. Serving a good creative through a good media buy gets good results. Serving a bad creative through a good media buy gets okay results.

With the rise of data targeting on the Web, I do agree with Sir Martin Sorrell that choice of media has a greater importance because of the precision that the Web offers.

The AT&T and Vice example is relevant to ViralGains, as we participated on the media buy for the campaign. We are a testament to the belief that laser-targeted media helps good content spread on the Web.”

So, Media or Creative?

Honestly, the best answer is neither. The two are so intricately and intimately tied together that the very act of choosing one over the other is the real culprit in the death of a campaign—not the media or creative strategy itself.

While this may seem as unresolved as “the chicken or the egg,” the truth is that the solution isn’t an “either or,” but an “and.”

Creative is an expression of a strategy.

Media is an investment in that strategy.

Separately, both play a large part in any strategy. But together, creative AND media can work in tandem with one another to deliver the strategy AND capture the consumer—a goal that unifies any and all advertisers.

About Kaitlyn Smith

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