Media: Double Standards - 'The industry's in its best shape since 1996'

Digital media, and especially search, appears to be bucking the downturn. The success story can continue as long as it's not treated as a silo, two digital planners agree.

PETE ROBINS - MANAGING PARTNER, AGENDA21

- How well is the media industry progressing on introducing a standardised online measurement system?

It's coming to a head. Our bit of the media industry now has enough stature to expect media planning of the highest quality. There are digital natives learning to plan better, and more from the traditional side of media are shifting attention to digital to follow budgets, audiences and client interest. A standard online measurement system is one important step forward to bring us all closer together. At best, it's still maybe a year away, though.

- Which online media owners are currently the most progressive in the solutions they are offering?

Some of the networks shot ahead with more advanced technology but others are catching up through consolidation. Some of the niche sites we're dealing with at agenda21 are massively upping their game as their income justifies it.

- How optimistic are you that growth in online spend can continue to buck the general downturn?

Very. The industry's in its best shape since we started doing this back in 1996. At agenda21, we still have some clients internally defending digital budgets versus other media. However, nearly all of them are looking to raise their budgets for 2009 - and that's a mix of direct response clients such as Totaljobs and Epson through to more brand-led clients such as LVMH and Investec.

- What's your view on Google's supposed market dominance?

In search, Google's dominance is without question and that won't change much, but, outside of search, it's a different story. It's a technology player trying to play in the media owner space and there are subtle differences, especially how it works with agencies. Competition is always a good thing and lots of other players are being forced to raise their game because of Google's existence.

- How would you describe the approach of your agency to digital?

Agenda21 was set up to be a specialist in integrated digital media. We translate a business opportunity into an appropriate use of digital media only when it's right to do so. We've got system analysts developing tools to make better use of the data that digital media churns out alongside the advancing delivery technologies. We're also working with clients and other agencies that want to push their understanding of digital media.

- As digital media becomes increasingly part of the mainstream, will there be increased or reduced need for digital specialists?

We need general planners to continue to become more au fait with digital media, but, as that covers multichannels, we'll still need specialists for the foreseeable future like press, TV and radio. We've only hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the technical side, which affects how we plan, so there's more than enough to keep specialists occupied.

- What's the best piece of work you've created for a client in the past year?

Agenda21 partnered with GCap Media to raise awareness of the Totaljobs brand. This involved integrated audio buffer ads and display activity across 40 regional online tuners. The ads were tailored to the regions as job-seeking is very much a local thing. It ran simultaneously with offline radio in specific regions, allowing us to set controls to evaluate the online performance robustly. Our work reached 1.3 million people over a three-month timeframe and outperformed the offline radio activity. One of those times when it all came together.

MARK SYAL - HEAD, WALKER-I

- How well is the media industry progressing on introducing a standardised online measurement system?

Committees have produced some guidelines and some self-assessment questionnaires to guide sellers through best practice in ad measurement. This is to be praised, but the guidelines themselves cover what should be standard practice already, and it's worrying to think they might not be in all cases. Also, it's self-assessment. What we really need is a third-party assessment - this would give a much higher degree of confidence in measurement data.

- Which online media owners are currently the most progressive in the solutions they are offering?

In general, we're not seeing the same pace of innovation that we have seen in the past few years. A quick straw poll around the office seemed to show the most respect for the BBC and especially the iPlayer. In terms of commercial media owners, I have always rated The Guardian. Its blend of traditional content, video and blog-style content has encouraged genuine user interaction and comment.

- How optimistic are you that growth in online spend can continue to buck the general downturn?

Online display and search have had very different growth trajectories and that continues to be the case. We're not going to see the same growth in the market as we have seen in recent years - but the market is now starting to reach some sort of maturity, in the case of search. I think that we will see some growth in search next year. Display supply has been outgrowing demand for some time now, and I think that this trend will continue in 2009/10.

- What's your view on Google's supposed market dominance?

There is no doubt that it dominates search, especially in the UK. However, most of its new products have not had the same impact - Froogle, Picassa, Orkut etc have either not been as developed, or have not achieved the same dominance. The products that have worked, such as Google Maps, do so because they add functionality to the basic search product. It remains to be seen whether Android can cut it against the iPhone.

- How would you describe the approach of your agency to digital?

We have always sought to integrate digital planning into the overall communications mix and avoid treating it as a silo. This has to be the way to deliver the best value for the client. A sensible choice needs to be made about the investment between channels to deliver the most efficient mix, and we should never be afraid to challenge the status quo.

- As digital media becomes increasingly part of the mainstream, will there be increased or reduced need for digital specialists?

I think that there will continue to be demand for media specialists of all sorts, including digital specialists. I think that as this trend continues, it's the generalists that will have to become much more digitally aware and that there will be an increased need for digital knowledge among communications planners.

- What's the best piece of work you've created for a client in the past year?

I was very proud of the last Barclaycard brand campaign over the summer. There was a heavy investment in digital media - which was the secondary medium to TV. As well as featuring several custom homepage ads on portals, we were able to make the case that we should invest in mobile media for the first time, and put together a campaign that featured several mobile firsts. The tracking studies that we carried out on both the mobile and online activity showed that the message was communicated very effectively to our target audience in both channels.

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