MEDIA: FORUM - Can media specialists keep up with interactivity?/Everyone agrees that digital media will really make a big impact on the way advertisers see the world in 2000. This year will be all about people starting to join up the online and interacti

If media’s conflicts were confined merely to the world of Power Point and the flipchart, then most large and not-so-large 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 television. With good reason.

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

Point and the flipchart, then most large and not-so-large 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

television. With good reason.

This is the big issue. In theory, this is the year in which serious new

marketing and advertising models will begin to appear - and, again in

theory, media agencies will take a lead role in developing those new


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


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


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 television

transmission protocols, real-time audience data capture and


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 (the

interactive TV platform) 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 absolute key remains

in 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 tiny

fraction ever see the light of day. There are certainly no rules about

who comes up with ideas. Nestle, for instance, 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 and that’s certainly true in our case.’

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

internet departments - clients have demanded them. And they obviously

have television departments.

But as TV and the internet converge, who has sovereignty? I’d question

whether they are structured properly. Media planners and account

planners need to work more closely, or even for their roles to be

combined. I know people have talked about this but now it has to happen

more widely and a lot quicker.’

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. I think 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


’Definitely,’ Pooler says. But with one important caveat: ’Media people

need to understand the technology and then forget about it. Or, at

least, put it to one side. We don’t ever want to get hung up on

technology for technology’s sake. The heart of our job will always be

about 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, in the

past, more than proved its ability to adapt. He comments: ’Where

interactivity is concerned, our start point is that we continue to look

at television as an advertising medium - we’re seeing new applications

rather than the creation of an entirely new medium. The consumer-centric

BMP way means that we will 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


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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

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).