Media Analysis: Forum - Are media specialists up to the digital challenge? Do agencies have the structures in place to take a lead role? Alasdair Reid investigates

If media’s conflicts were confined merely to the world of Power Point and the flipchart, then most media specialists could face the challenges of 2000 with supreme confidence. Almost everyone has a credentials presentation highlighting their expertise in all forms of digital media, not least interactive TV. With good reason. This is the big issue. This is the year when serious new marketing and advertising models will begin to appear - and media agencies will take a lead role in developing those new models.

If media’s conflicts were confined merely to the world of Power

Point and the flipchart, then most media specialists could face the

challenges of 2000 with supreme confidence. Almost everyone has a

credentials presentation highlighting their expertise in all forms of

digital media, not least interactive TV. With good reason. This is the

big issue. This is the year when serious new marketing and advertising

models will begin to appear - and media agencies will take a lead role

in developing those new models.



They will be expected to uphold the conventional standards of media

hygiene - the ability to plan and buy effectively - while weaving in

sponsorship, advertiser-funded programming and all the ’creative’

touches that are de rigeur in a market where the fragmenting TV audience

is ragged around the edges. But they will now be asked to take those

skills and reinvent them in the digital environment - one in which

advertisers are developing more sophisticated online relationships with

their customers and, in many cases, will be retailing direct to their

homes.



No-one is better placed to oversee all of this than media

specialists.



But are they up to the challenge? One or two have launched specialist

units to work on dotcom accounts; some have online media buying units;

others have departments with a broader remit of helping to develop whole

e-commerce strategies for clients. But do these skills need to be

integrated into the mainstream? Do all strategic planners, for instance,

now need to know about internet software, digital TV transmission

protocols, real-time audience data capture and video on demand?



Do agencies have the right structures in place? Or should they believe

that all this talk is a bit like the Millennium Bug - one of those

technological scare stories that doesn’t bear close scrutiny? Mick

Perry, the vice-chairman of Universal McCann, believes the market

continues to be conditioned by the reality of what media owners are able

to provide. ’We’ve been active in this area because Nestle tends to be

an early adopter and Somerfield is heavily involved with Open,’ he says.

’But it has felt like a bit of a slow start because Open has been hit by

delays and has missed a couple of launch deadlines. It may well be true

that we could be doing more to take a lead, but the vital thing is

getting it right when it comes to the hundreds of millions we spend on

behalf of clients.



’Agencies are always bombarding clients with ideas and only a fraction

ever see the light of day. There are no rules about who comes up with

ideas. Nestle is a client that is very accessible to media owners, so it

is being given ideas from all sides. All marketing services companies

should see themselves as extensions of the client marketing team.’



Are media owners increasingly focusing most of their efforts on talking

directly to clients? Mark Chippendale, the sales controller at Sky,

wouldn’t quite put it that way, but he does believe many media

specialists have a lot of ground to make up. ’Most of them have internet

departments, clients have demanded them. And they obviously have TV

departments. But as TV and the net converge, who has sovereignty? I’d

question whether they are structured properly. Media planners and

account planners need to work more closely. Their roles may even need to

be combined.’



And Chippendale says that, for this and other reasons, it is becoming

more desirable to talk directly to the advertiser. ’TV departments have

always been focused primarily on how many ratings they wanted to buy -

but, increasingly, TV is not about that. The problem is that many media

operations have become distanced from the client’s overall marketing

objectives. As we move closer to a situation where advertisers are

selling products off-screen, there may be more situations in which we

need to talk directly to the advertiser. Media operations should have a

clearer understanding of the overall marketing process.’



Is Mandy Pooler, the chief executive of MindShare, seeing evidence that

specialists are being cut out of the loop? ’We still feel very much in

demand,’ she says. ’It is hard to overstate the speed with which things

are evolving and we have to recognise that. We’ll have a role as a

marriage broker in a number of different guises - that’s a natural

evolution of the skills we’ve always had traditionally.’



But what about digital literacy? Many specialists, MindShare included,

have addressed new challenges by launching specialist units. Is this the

year that those discretely managed skills must permeate the

mainstream?



’Definitely,’ Pooler says. ’But media people need to understand the

technology and then forget about it. Or, at least, put it to one side.

We don’t want to get hung up on technology for technology’s sake. The

heart of our job will always be introducing advertisers to consumers,

reaching them at the right time in the right way. But we certainly can’t

continue mushrooming specialist groups. Media companies have largely got

the plot and many clients have too. They may shoot me for saying this,

but the biggest worry is creative agencies.’



Paul Taylor, the managing director of BMP OMD, says that BMP has more

than proved its ability to adapt. He comments: ’Where interactivity is

concerned, our start point is that we continue to look at TV as an

advertising medium - we’re seeing new applications rather than the

creation of an entirely new medium. We seek to be very clear about what

consumers are doing with those new applications. That will then be used

to enhance brand marketing strategies - and we always keep sight of the

overall marketing picture. We already have the relevant expertise within

the organisation. As it has in the past, it will come down to the

creation of the best possible teams.’



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).