MEDIA FORUM: Why isn't TV a sexy medium any more?

Creatives love working on TV ads but is media strategists' apparent lack of interest in TV a worry, Alasdair Reid asks.

In the mad rush to embrace faddish bells and whistles, the media industry is losing its grip on the basics. That, at least, is the view of Mark Cranmer, the chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa of the Starcom Media-Vest Group, and the chairman of the Campaign Media Awards judges. In his summing up of this year's entries (Campaign, 28 November), Cranmer said that he detected worrying evidence that the industry was struggling to get the best out of what was traditionally held to be core strategic media.

"Nowhere is this more evidenced than by the scarcity of TV case work," he continued. "Television continues to consume more media time and brand budgets than any other medium. Yet identification of television's role on the media landscape is largely missing from our agency winners."

Cranmer concluded that this lies at the heart of many of the problems facing the media industry. "If we can't articulate the contribution of the larger elements of the communications mix, we will perpetuate the commoditisation of service provision."

Is he right? Louise Jones, the executive strategy director of PHD, thinks that he is. She believes that the root of the problem is a tendency to leave it until far too late before attempting to inject a bit of "creative thinking" into a campaign.

She says: "The industry seems to feel that the best way to be innovative is in so-called non-traditional media. You can almost imagine a thought process of 'I've got the stunt, now where's the client brief?' or the belief if you have an idea that might be a media first, then it must be worth doing. The real source of innovation is insight and creativity which should then lead a distinctive media strategy which has an impact across all channels, and the insight should come first."

Alan Doyle, the communications director of Volkswagen, agrees wholeheartedly with Cranmer. But maybe, he suggests, the onus sometimes lies with the client: "The way that trading works means that a client might see very much of an overview where the TV trading picture is concerned unless you insist otherwise. You will be given the broad parameters but not necessarily whether you specifically want to be in this or that programme. I'm not sure every client gets involved at that level. But, yes, it's also up to TV sales houses and agencies too."

And it's true, as Cranmer also pointed out, that no terrestrial TV sales team entered the broadcast sales team of the year category (won by Freeserve) at the awards. In some ways, that doesn't surprise Paul Curtis, the managing director of Viacom Brand Solutions.

Curtis heads arguably one of the most innovative TV sales operations in the UK market but he doesn't want to slag off his terrestrial TV rivals.

He will concede, however, that what they do and the way that they do it hasn't really changed in decades. "It's true that you might wonder what they would find to say about themselves or what they really could claim to have done differently. But actually, there are some interesting initiatives out there."

Not many though, surely? "The problem is that it's the same on both sides," Curtis argues. "Both buyers and sellers see TV very one dimensionally.

Too much time and effort is put into counting people (audiences) and then pricing them.

There's not enough effort put into understanding how people engage with TV and how that engagement affects the perception of the brands that they see appearing there."

Curtis would love to see change but he's not at all sure it's going to happen, especially as the dominant player on the sales side, ITV, is occupied by other issues as it seeks to bed in its new structure.

Will Collin, a founding partner of Naked Communications, tends to agree with Cranmer's overall point but argues that there's plenty of good TV planning around. Perhaps understandably, Collin uses as his prime example the 118 118 campaign, through his own agency, which won Media Campaign of the Year at the awards. Everyone primarily remembers the stunts, but the campaign was underpinned by a big TV spend. The stunt and out-of-home elements were only allowed to evolve once the TV strategy had been got right.

But, he concludes, it's dangerous to get uniquely anxious about TV just because, in monetary terms, it represents the biggest part of many campaigns.

"I don't think it's wise to break out the most expensive bit and think about it separately. We should be moving the opposite way and integrating all parts of the communications mix," he says.

- "The industry seems to put a disproportionate amount of effort into innovating in execution. Innovation isn't about tinkering at the edges or amplifying the creative execution in ambient media but about a thought-through strategy and media plan that does the business."

Louise Jones executive strategy director, PHD

- "Agencies and TV sales houses could involve people on the client side by opening up and convincing them that TV isn't as difficult as they think. Maybe they have to do that if they don't want the leading edge of campaign planning to move even further away from TV." Alan Doyle communications director, Volkswagen

- "Most buyers and sellers have a preconceived view of value in TV that stems from the 80s. Some planners find it difficult to get excited about TV because they feel they know all there is to know about it. They have no reason to take risks and neither does the brand leader ITV."

Paul Curtis managing director, Viacom Brand Solutions

- "Quality of thinking must be there in all the communications channels if communications agencies are to retain their position as strategic advisers to clients. The industry has made great progress in that respect, so let's not throttle back on that."

- Will Collin founding partner, Naked Communications.

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