Media: All About ... Thinkbox

The TV companies' trade marketing effort is only a start.

After several years of procrastination and countless false dawns, the commercial TV companies have finally got their act together with the launch of a trade marketing body.

Except they haven't, not really. Instead, they have reached agreement on a generic TV marketing strategy under the name Thinkbox. There will be no full-time secretariat, no dedicated office and, at least at this stage, no above-the-line marketing campaign.

Instead, the TV companies have come up with an eight-point plan that includes a website and a series of roundtable events culminating in a conference to be held in June. The aim is to re-engage advertisers and agencies with a medium that has been accused of ignoring its customers.

Curiously, at this stage, the members are not promoting the organisation or the power of TV via TV itself. Instead, the activities of Thinkbox will be promoted by direct mail and personal invitations to attend roundtable events.

Thinkbox is made up of all the main TV sales points, excluding the Sci-Fi Channel and Digital Media Sales, and claims to represent 99 per cent of commercial TV revenue. The eight-strong board has committed £1.5 million to the running costs of the body, based on members' share of net advertising revenue and an annual membership fee, although some argue that this is not enough.

Compared with the activities of the Radio Advertising Bureau, the Outdoor Advertising Association and even the Newspaper Marketing Agency, the initial impression is that the investment in Thinkbox is underwhelming. All these organisations have a full-time dedicated secretariat - the RAB has 24 full-time staff and a budget of £3.3 million - and all have used their own medium as part of their advertising strategy.

However, this would ignore just how far the broadcasters have come in reaching some sort of common ground. Not only have they found it difficult to agree on a common agenda, but - perhaps understandably, given the money at stake - they have been riven by sniping and backbiting as they competed for a share of the TV ad revenue pot.

Given the variety of the broadcasters' marketing strategies, it is difficult to reach a consensus. And anyway, all the TV companies have large and expensively resourced client sales teams whose job it is to build relationships with clients, so the £1.5 million is a small part of TV's overall client spend.

1. A joint TV marketing initiative has been a long time in the making. Putting on a united TV marketing initiative was discussed as long ago as 2000.

2. TV companies struggled to agree on a funding formula, although this has been resolved.

3. Andy Tilley of The Ingram Partnership was appointed last year to advise the TV companies on the strategy.

4. The heads of the sales points (including ITV Sales' managing director, Graham Duff, and Channel 4's sales director, Andy Barnes) make up the eight-strong board, which is supported by a working group drawn from the member companies.

5. A website - www.thinkbox.tv - is the main interface between Thinkbox and advertisers and agencies. As well as listing case studies, research and general information on TV advertising, the website will be the main way to contact Thinkbox. Alternatively, there is a telephone helpline but this will be directed to Tilley at TIP. It will not, however, deal with any issue resulting from airtime trading but will attempt to demystify television by omitting jargon and give advice on best practice when creating an ad campaign.

6. The Thinkbox ("Inside the Box") conference will be held at Olympia on 28 June, organised by the company behind the opening and closing ceremonies at the Athens Olympics. The timing of this conference is deliberate - it is as far from the trading season as it is possible to be. It could be a glitzy and glamorous occasion (it is a fair bet that the bulk of Thinkbox's £1.5 million budget will go on sexing up the conference so that it puts some star quality back into a medium that has been attacked for becoming commoditised).

Although it is easy to accuse Thinkbox of being the bare minimum that the TV companies could manage to commit themselves to, it is still a sign of progress. Anything that attempts to re-engage advertisers and agencies with television should be seen as a good thing.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ...

ADVERTISERS

- Advertisers will have a central point of reference (the website) with research data, case studies, ad reels and examples of best practice, creativity and innovation.

- They will be invited to participate in a debate on generic industry issues (for example, the potential threat from PVRs) and can maintain a constant dialogue with the TV companies.

- Advertisers will also continue to receive marketing information and promotions from the individual broadcasters on top of the activities of Thinkbox.

AGENCIES

- New and junior agency staff, as well as advertisers, will be invited to television training days by the broadcasters.

- Thinkbox will not engage in discussion on deals or trading issues.

RIVAL MEDIA

- Thinkbox is commissioning research studies it hopes will expose the failings of the other media.

- The organisation also represents the first time that the TV companies have collaborated on marketing their medium.