Media: Behind the Hype - Has SMG Access lived up to its launch promise?

A year after its launch, SMG Access hasn't really made waves, Emma Barns writes

Launched a year ago, with hardly the most inspiring of names, SMG Access has not had quite the impact on the media that its launch hype predicted. In fact, some of the agencies we spoke to about it even needed reminding what the offering included.

Jumping on the cross-media solutions bandwagon last September, the media-owner Scottish Media Group created a cross-platform sales team to offer advertisers packages across its various companies. These include its Scottish and Grampian television channels, Virgin Radio, the Pearl & Dean cinema operation and the outdoor company Primesight.

It was quick to trumpet its £1 million Unilever deal, which is using all SMG assets, and has been the team's greatest success.

However, other business seems to have been rather thin on the ground and Malcolm MacMillan, the director of SMG Access, admits that of its three other chunky deals - Texaco, United Biscuits and Cadbury - only Texaco ended up using multiple media.

"The fact that they didn't use more doesn't matter. Access was set up to add value to customer campaigns and now they can see what we are capable of," he says.

Figures to show how much of SMG's revenue is coming through cross-media deals are unavailable as the company is in its close period ahead of its interim results.

But as MacMillan explains, there have been other focuses this year. "We have a long-term perspective and this year we have been concentrating on developing relationships with the client and agency community. It is early days, but we have been getting an incredibly good response and have masses on at the moment," he says.

So what do SMG's competitors think? Emap Advertising is one of the major players in the cross-media field. Dave King, its managing director, believes the launch of SMG Access has done the market a service because it has helped to increase activity in multimedia solutions.

However, he adds: "It was a brave move for SMG as it's not an easy sell. It (cross media) requires resource and it's hard to make good margins. I think SMG has had a tougher time than us as it doesn't have the brands that run across as many media platforms as we do and its offering is quite disparate."

Tim McCabe, the communications director at Vizeum, is a great believer in the cross-media approach, saying: "It's a great way to come up with interesting and innovative ideas and, of course, it makes sense to talk to people all in the same building."

But, like King, he sees the pitfalls in the SMG portfolio. "It's tied into Virgin and the fit between radio, focused mainly in London, posters, wherever they are, and Scottish TV doesn't provide as many options as some," he says.

He also suggests that SMG is at a disadvantage with its mix of media: "Cross-media deals work at their best with flexible media, when ideas can be executed quickly. Print and radio are ideally suited to cross media while poster sites and television (which form a big part of SMG's offering) have longer lead times and are more difficult to include in a cross-media deal."

MacMillan challenges this. "Integrated campaigns are a long and involved process and lead times are generally quite long. We are more fleet of foot because we are a smaller organisation and can get campaigns out more quickly than the likes of Emap," he says.

However, King seems unconcerned by this. "SMG has grown the market to our favour and we hope that we are still agencies' first port of call. SMG is not a major threat in the next few years and I think it will struggle to improve its offering," he says.

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