MEDIA: FORUM - Can publishers help raise the quality of print ads? The low number of press entries at the D&AD awards should alarm the print media. But should publishers be doing more to reignite enthusiasm for print ads, Alasdair Reid asks

Do you remember the Boddingtons Bitter ’cream of Manchester’ press campaigns? There was a time when you’d see Boddingtons ads on the back of just about every newspaper review section you picked up. This was creative inspiration working powerfully with media excellence. The review sections, introduced almost a decade ago, were the last major editorial innovation in the newspaper market and they were marketed heavily, not just to enthusiastic media buyers but to the creative community too.

Do you remember the Boddingtons Bitter ’cream of Manchester’ press

campaigns? There was a time when you’d see Boddingtons ads on the back

of just about every newspaper review section you picked up. This was

creative inspiration working powerfully with media excellence. The

review sections, introduced almost a decade ago, were the last major

editorial innovation in the newspaper market and they were marketed

heavily, not just to enthusiastic media buyers but to the creative

community too.



Creatives were equally enthusiastic. Unlike the old-fashioned glossy

supplements, review sections felt contemporary, offered good quality

colour reproduction on newsprint and, with publishers vowing to cut back

on the clutter, they promised to be a showcase advertising environment.

The buzz they created carried expectations of a renaissance in press

creativity.



Was this a forlorn hope? The craft skills on which the David Abbott

generation were nurtured have been declining for more than a decade. So

perhaps no-one should be that surprised to find that at the first D&AD

awards of the new millennium, the jury is unable to find any press work

worth applauding.



Should media owners be alarmed? The widespread assumption is that

there’s little in the way of good press work because creatives find the

medium an uninspiring environment to work in. The long-term danger is

that diminishing craft skills will undermine the effectiveness of the

medium and revenue will eventually suffer.



Is it up to the media owners to remind the creative community about how

sexy good press advertising can be? They could perhaps look to radio for

their model in this. The Radio Advertising Bureau was set up not just to

market the cost effectiveness of the medium but to re-educate the

creative community, hosting all sorts of roadshows, seminars and awards

schemes.



Is it time for publishers to consider doing something like that at an

industry level?



Guy Zitter, the managing director of the Daily Mail, isn’t sure. He

points out that a few years back the Newspaper Publishers’ Association

put up a pounds 10,000 prize for the year’s best creative work. The

scheme, however, was short-lived. Zitter believes that there are more

intractable structural problems at the heart of this issue. He comments:

’My view is that the vast majority of agency creatives think that

producing a TV ad is much more exciting than producing press work. They

find it exciting not because they think it’s the best and most

cost-effective way to sell a product but because they’re all frustrated

film directors.’



He concedes that it’s a difficult problem to resolve. ’The people who

have the power to change this are their clients. They must start

questioning why agencies ignore the fact that the costs of TV are going

berserk. Why are agencies concentrating all their efforts on getting on

to TV rather than working out how to sell the client’s product in the

most effective way possible? Clients have to take their agencies to task

more often.’



It’s true, admits Robert Campbell, the creative director of Rainey Kelly

Campbell Roalfe/Y&R - the emphasis has continued to shift away from the

print media: ’The world and media have become faster and it’s a shame

that the craft disciplines required in press advertising are being lost.

It’s a shame because those skills were instrumental in instilling a

purity of thinking. The truth is that press is regarded as something of

a backwater and going on a stills shoot is not as glamorous as a TV

shoot.’



Campbell argues that publishers are largely powerless to reverse this

trend. ’Having more competitions and awards probably won’t work but what

might happen is that advertisers could become disillusioned by

electronic media.



I think that’s one of the reasons why posters are in such short

supply.



Newspapers and magazines could well be the next medium that advertisers

turn to. If I was a publisher I’d concentrate on making that happen. For

instance, they could do more about creating landmark sites aside from

back covers but I think it would be a mistake to position print as a

cut-price medium. If you want to do it well, you need fairly long lead

times, you need to give it serious thought and you need to invest

properly in it.’



Colin Gottlieb, the managing partner of Manning Gottlieb Media,

questions whether publishers are genuinely motivated to address this

issue. After all, they are riding high, like other media sectors, on the

dotcom boom.



’It’s nothing new to find creatives desperate to work on TV. It’s true

you don’t hear many people talking about ’a big print campaign’ any more

but the fact is that the medium has never been busier, so I’m pretty

sure that most media owners couldn’t care less about what’s been

happening at the D&AD. It probably hasn’t registered on their radar and

a lot of them can argue, quite justifiably, that they’re constantly

innovating in terms of their product and what they are able to offer

advertisers.



Press advertising is by no means a stagnant sector. But perhaps it’s

true that publishers don’t treat advertising with thoughtful and loving

care. They don’t enter into a dialogue about how to make best use of the

medium. It’s down to individual media owners though and I can’t see many

of them losing sleep over this issue.’



Some publishers disagree - and they would turn the spotlight on media

specialists too. Duncan Edwards, the deputy managing director of the

National Magazine Company, states: ’We have presentations that make

compelling arguments for the effectiveness of magazine advertising.

Clients are always surprised when they hear the facts and they tend to

ask why their media agencies haven’t been telling them this. But they

will also admit that their creative agencies don’t wait until they see a

media brief before deciding that a TV campaign is what’s needed - the

decision has already been made. Sometimes clients are scared to

challenge creative directors and media agencies just don’t have the

clout to challenge this sort of decision.



’So, yes, it’s up to us to challenge the prejudice towards TV on every

occasion we can. As to how to do it, I think we should look at the

degree to which professional advisors are succeeding in giving the best

advice to their clients. Creatives will follow their instincts unless

they are instructed otherwise. If we saw more use of press, that would

inevitably lead to better creative work.’



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