Media: Spotlight - Does RSVP offer compelling cross-media solutions?

Media owners should avoid forming alliances that only benefit them.

On paper at least, the creation of a one-stop shop that brings together MTV, VH1, Loaded and Capital FM's media properties seems a pretty potent one for advertisers targeting the youth market.

With all of these brands likely to appear at the top of the same media schedule, RSVP (Real Sound, Vision & Print) unites three powerful platform owners - Viacom Brand Solutions, IPC Media and Capital Radio - to provide an easier route to negotiating cross-media advertising solutions.

And it isn't just about those four aforementioned brands. RSVP will work across the entire portfolio of media properties of the three companies including Xfm, Blockbuster and Viacom Outdoor, as well as tapping into those from other media owners, for example newspapers, where suitable.

This is not the first time the three companies have co-operated. According to Dan Salem, the commercial director of VBS, they have worked together in the past because of the similarities between their audiences.

But the creation of RSVP formalises the relationship. Salem will meet on a weekly basis with Capital Radio's brand sales director, Mike Hope-Milne, and the cross-media solutions manager for IPC Advertising's IPC ignite! team, Victoria Smith, to drive the initiative forward.

According to Salem, the job of RSVP is to come up with creative solutions to briefs that come in from advertisers and agencies. He says the response has been good and the co-operative is already working on four briefs for clients.

Cross-media packages are nothing new. Starcom Motive was one of the first agencies to realise the benefits of cross-media deals and three years ago instigated such a deal with Scottish Media Group on behalf of its client Boddingtons. Steve Parker, the agency's UK buying director, welcomes the RSVP initiative. "These are three powerful platforms in their own right. I support the move because the more choice, the better."

John Overend, the investment director at PHD, is also enthusiastic. "I think it's a great initiative. The titles involved are attractive and it provides a great platform for them," he says.

The synergies between the three companies are clear but Emap Advertising has been packaging its portfolio of magazines, radio and television interests for years. It has had cross-media deals in place with the likes of United International Pictures and the Nestle brand Smarties and, according to Dave King, the managing director of Emap Advertising, it generates 15 per cent of its income (£20 million) from such deals.

Given this volume, some think RSVP has been created to get Emap Advertising to remove the tanks parked on their respective lawns after earlier attempts at their own vertically integrated solutions failed to take off.

Viacom has in the past attempted to leverage its own group capabilities with the creation of Viacom Plus, which brought together VBS's portfolio of TV stations with Viacom Outdoor and the Viacom-owned chain of UCI cinemas and the Blockbuster chain.

Although Heinz used Viacom Plus for the creation and execution of a series of animated characters that were promoted on-air, in UCI cinemas and on the Underground, the take-up by advertisers since has been slow. Also, IPC has banged its drum about the potential for cross-media opportunities within the Time Warner group but in practice there has been little evidence of it.

The fact that RSVP brings together three differently owned companies that potentially have a greater scale of audience than its Emap rivals could be both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

Parker tempers his optimism for RSVP with some caution: "A good idea has the potential to fail because the organisations are not set up to deal with them."

Certainly there is the potential for clashes between the three parties purely on the basis of self-interest - what happens if all three can see a way to get a larger share of the advertisers' cake?

Salem says that in the event of a three-way integrated cross-media solution being unsuitable for a brief, RSVP will not recommend one. "If there is a brief that we can't fulfil, we'll put our hands up and admit it," he says.

Emap's response so far has been tepid but this does not deter the interlopers. "There seems to be a bit of arrogance from Emap - it should welcome a level of competition," Salem says.

Kathryn Jacob, formerly the sales director at Virgin Radio, took on a role overseeing SMG's portfolio last September.

As the managing director of SMG Access, Jacob is responsible for developing integrated solutions across SMG's television, radio, Primesight and Pearl & Dean portfolio.

While the revenues derived from cross-media deals are still tiny - Jacob estimates that her division is responsible for providing an incremental 2 per cent growth in SMG's ad revenues - they will continue to grow.

But Jacob says there is a danger that media owners will just jump on the bandwagon of creating alliances for their own benefits rather than for advertisers, stifling what should be an increasingly profitable business.

"It (cross-media trading) is a growing area but its development depends on how media owners treat it. It shouldn't be seen as a convenient bundle of properties; rather, it's a longer-term process not just derived from discussions about taking more money out of the client," Jacob says.

RSVP must prove that there is a real depth to its offering rather than being just a neat marriage of convenience.

Parker concludes: "If RSVP gets people thinking about cross-media deals, then it will be for the benefit of the industry. It might also generate more powerful thinking from the media owners."

CROSS-MEDIA DEALS

MAY 2000: BT is the first to use Emap's entire package when it signs a deal to advertise across TV, magazines, websites and radio.

JUNE 2001: Boddingtons links with SMG in a deal across Virgin Radio, outdoor across Primesight sites, cinema and online.

JULY 2001: Nestle's Smarties links up with Emap to support the brand across Big City radio, magazines and TV.

JULY 2003: United International Pictures runs its first cross-media activity with Emap. In February, it signs an £800,000 deal with Emap involving picture messaging, magazines, radio and TV.

AUGUST 2003: Heinz agrees a £3.5 million deal to launch "Bite Me" crew through Viacom Plus.

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