Media: Double Standards - Working in media futures isn't just about stats

The internet has become even bigger and more influential than these two futures chiefs imagined, and they predict even greater growth.

ADAM SMITH - futures director, GroupM

- How do you and your team work with the rest of the business/agency?

Team? Those were the days. Correspondence with our farther-flung cousins is the inevitable blizzard of e-mail, with occasional quality face time. WPP's 91,000 is a lot of faces and names to remember. A lifetime's teaching at a large school would yield only 22,000. How we work is: I ask for stuff and they answer. Anything. This network really does work. In London, I am spoilt for choice. All the people I need to sponge off are within walking distance. WPP seems to rent most of the West End.

- Is what you do all about statistics?

Stats are but means to various ends: finding significance; forming opinions; creating a sense of control of events. They have no meaning of themselves.

- How depressing is forecasting future adspend at the moment - most trends seem to be downwards?

I'd be more depressed if everyone thought me a God's-in-his-heaven Pollyanna. But you have to be positive. Call it creative destruction. Management- by-pretending-it's-not-happening does not a long career in media portend.

- What qualifications do you need to work in media futures?

To be intelligent and hard-working, the same as any serious job. I only hire people I think more intelligent and harder-working than I am.

- What's the most significant advertising trend you've identified for 2007?

That it is impossible to say where the internet will stop. We are only beginning to reveal its potential to replace conventional advertising and conventional retail. I used to wonder if it could become the largest single destination for media investment in my working lifetime. Now I wonder if it'll happen before I replace my current car. Its infinite hunger for outstanding creativity may, however, prove its Achilles' heel. Creativity is the single most important element in advertising and the hardest to get right.

- Are media agencies really geared up for the changes in media consumption we've seen and are about to see?

I've worked outside the industry, and like many inside have been privileged to see inside client companies too. There are some pretty bright people in this business. They adapt, even if some of them leave it to the last minute.

- What's your nickname at the agency?

Some people call me "adman" which is all very well, but lacks the jagged edge of a proper nickname. Jim Freeman and I exchange an eccentric salutation. Not so much a name, more a moose-like bellow. Crazy or what?

- Which areas of the media industry need greater measurement?

The media industry would measure its own navel if it had one. We are here to sell stuff. I would like to see campaign objectives measured using pound signs. (See "internet to replace conventional advertising" above.)

- What will take the media industry by surprise next year?

The BBC coming out for the Tories.

- What are this Saturday's lottery numbers going to be?

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. Look into my eyes, not around my eyes.

JONATHAN BARNARD - head of publications, ZenithOptimedia

- How do you and your team work with the rest of the business/agency?

We rely on our network of agencies for information and insight. Our forecasts are very much the result of collaborative effort; they're not just the opinions of a few people sitting in an office in the West End. In return, we regularly supply data to the rest of the agency, and help out with odd requests for information that no-one else knows how to find.

- Is what you do all about statistics?

In general, the job involves finding information, assessing its quality and putting it in context. Statistics are obviously part of that, but qualitative information is as important as quantitative information. Of course, there's no point in having great information if you can't communicate it, so clear prose and an eye for the telling detail are vital too.

- How depressing is forecasting future adspend at the moment - most trends seem to be downwards?

It's not depressing in the slightest. These are exciting times - new media and new forms of advertising are emerging, and technology is blurring the boundaries between media and other forms of communication. At the global level, advertising spend is growing at a healthy pace, and every medium - including print - is expanding, even after adjusting for inflation.

- What qualifications do you need to work in media futures?

We have had people from a very wide variety of backgrounds working here. I'd say the essential qualities are a head for figures, a way with words, curiosity, an open mind and a healthy dose of scepticism.

- What's the most significant advertising trend you've identified for 2007?

I will be very interested to see the results of the experiments Google is conducting in the US, using its AdWords platform to sell radio and newspapers. It may turn out that paid-search sales techniques do not extend well to other media (an earlier trial with magazines doesn't seem to have worked out), but they have the potential to bring some of the transparency and efficiency of keyword auctions to traditional media.

- Are media agencies really geared up for the changes in media consumption we've seen and are about to see?

They're definitely trying their hardest to make sure they are. Most of the media people I know are natural early adopters, so they're very aware of the latest technology and trends, and how these affect the business.

- What's your nickname at the agency?

Either I don't have one, or I have one that no-one will tell me to my face. I hope it's the former.

- Which areas of the media industry need greater measurement?

The vast sums of money flowing to the internet certainly justify more research on online audiences. It would be great to see a common currency encompassing online videos, podcasts and virals, let alone display.

- What will take the media industry by surprise next year?

If I told you that, it wouldn't be a surprise! Watch out for "place shifting" devices like Slingbox, which allow users to watch their home TV anywhere by streaming the signal over the internet.

- What are this Saturday's lottery numbers going to be?

4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42.

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