Media Perspective: Venice, big names and bubbly inspire a rather dull outlook

Media has a festival of its own. Now in its second year, this week's Venice Festival of Media attracted more than 900 delegates to the hotels, bars and restaurants of the Venice Lido.

The risk must be that in placing the event on such a magical stage, you end up with the equivalent of staging Mary Poppins at Stratford.

But, for the most part, the content was strong enough to supplement the serious networking and drinking going on around it. The key obsessions were there for all to see and, perhaps unsurprisingly given the state of the global economy and the global nature of the event, many insecurities were aired.

Debate tended to focus on big questions revolving around fragility of status. So matters such as who owns content, who takes the lead on strategy and the messy business of whether agencies are paid enough to survive loomed large.

There were some big names, a few insights and a few bombs dropped onstage (Philips' Sital Banerjee seemed to take the collective breath away with his savage indictment of training standards at agencies).

Occasionally, though, I was swept with the feeling that only media people have the capacity to make media sound so boring. Undoubtedly one of the big themes to emerge was the importance of customer and transactional data as the media business evolves ("The guys with the numbers hold the power," as one speaker put it). Just a shame, then, that nobody has yet found an entertaining way of bringing this and other new developments in media to life.

Several characters demonstrated an over-reliance on PowerPoint, and it was frustrating that these media operators were, on the whole, the ones attempting to sketch out media's future. One offender, for instance, unleashed slides with gay abandon, culminating in a knee-trembler entitled "Data is the engine".

On the whole, though, the festival revealed some encouraging signs from the likes of Procter & Gamble, whose global media director, Bernhard Glock, revealed that he likes to work with agencies from a range of disciplines to forge its best ideas. "It's about having the right team sitting around the table to talk about the business and develop consumer understanding," he said.

Easier said than done with some clients, it seems. The issue of agency models and collaboration with clients just won't go away until a viable solution is found. Clients said ad agencies still too often present them with 30-second ads as the solution, while media agencies have their own issues with finding talent. However, Coca-Cola and Unilever were just two of a few clients on show to have attempted new ways of working with agencies that might reap rewards. And I bet there's not much PowerPoint involved in these relationships.

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