Editorial: A new reality has swept away the old certainties

The industry's most recent guide to effective communication, published this week, makes an essential read, but also an uncomfortable one. It shows a business where agencies and clients feel confused about working in a marketing environment where old certainties no longer exist.

Time was when the power of mass-market TV advertising was all-conquering. So much so that it didn't matter if the PR or direct mail activity that underpinned it had little synergy. Today, many factors combine to ensure such a fragmented approach is ineffective and, with communications budgets perpetually under the cosh, also absurdly wasteful.

The decline of the mass audience, time-poor consumers and the web's power to shape the future of brands ensure that the landscape has changed irrevocably. The danger is that marketers are not so much befuddled by the proliferation of new mediums, but bedazzled by them.

What is clear from the guide is that the new reality reduces the need for a scattergun approach. Mass coverage may no longer be appropriate; paid-for media may not even be the way to go. Using digital technology to have a personal dialogue with consumers could be of far greater importance.

Adapting to this will be hard. It begs the question of who should lead the communication strategy once it is agreed. Creative agencies may lose out to media specialists, which have evolved their strategic thinking at a faster rate.

It also raises the issue of how the industry can sustain the case for effective communication at a time when providing the evidence for it will grow ever harder. For all the IPA's efforts to amass credible case histories of advertising that has translated into business success, the fact is that measuring the effect of commercial communication has always been an inexact science. And it's likely to remain so as the message is delivered across an ever broader range of channels.

Setting out what you want to do at the earliest chance, and getting everybody to sign up, has never been more vital.