It's a bit like what they used to say about Tony Blair's constituency of Sedgefield: pin a Labour rosette on a donkey and it would still win by a street. Likewise, you'd have to be spectacularly inept to make a hash of things at the Interactive Advertising Bureau these days.
Internet advertising has already overtaken cinema's market share and may soon surpass radio. It claims to be the fastest-growing medium in history - and growth in revenue is still lagging behind growth in audiences. It has history on its side.
So, even with the most modest of ambitions, anyone charged with responsibility for marketing the medium is going to look as if they're doing a hell of a job.
The IAB, though, has more than modest ambitions; after all, its new chief executive, Guy Phillipson, is no donkey. Phillipson, who this week succeeds Danny Meadows-Klue as the chief executive, joins from Vodafone, where he was the head of advertising, in command of a £60 million annual budget.
Phillipson's priority in his new role is to get out and see as many people as possible, especially on the client side; and knowing something of their mindset will be to his advantage, he says. There are two possible sources of growth: getting existing users to spend more; and persuading those who haven't been using the medium to start (at the very least) trying it out.
Phillipson is looking forward to tackling the latter, particularly FMCG advertisers - a sector that has been conspicuously absent from the medium to date. But he feels that a vital element in conversation with all advertisers - existing users as well as virgins - will be to impress upon them the merits of online as a branding medium. That, he says, will be central to its next stage of development.
And he won't be neglecting agencies. He suspects he'll be preaching to the converted but believes he can make a difference even here. "What we can do is help provide the tools for them to present the internet to clients in the right way," he suggests.
1. The Interactive Advertising Bureau was formally incorporated in the UK in 1998, two years after the first IAB was launched in the US. Danny Meadows-Klue, who helped create the UK outfit while the publisher of The Daily Telegraph's online services, became its first chief executive in 2000 and it began building a team of full-time staff in 2002. During this period London became the hub of a network of European IABs.
2. The IAB represents the interests of media owners. It exists to help "online, interactive broadcasting, e-mail, wireless and interactive TV media companies increase their revenues". It seeks to do this by setting standards and guidelines that make trading easier for agencies and advertisers while also proving and promoting the effectiveness of the medium.
3. Its early UK agenda was defensive - fighting possible national and European Union legislation that would have outlawed the use of "cookies" (temporary files stored on your computer that track your internet activities, thus helping advertisers target you more effectively). But increasingly it has also focused on more proactive areas, attempting to standardise the size and format of advertising sites on websites and seeking to make the medium more accountable.
4. Internet advertising in the UK has gone from zero ten years ago to an expected final total of around £500 million for 2004. It now accounts for slightly more than 3 per cent of UK adspend, giving it a greater share than cinema.
5. Almost 20 per cent of advertisers stated that they intended to increase their internet spend over the fourth quarter of 2004, according to the last IPA quarterly Bellwether Report. And there is plenty of scope for growth. A quarter of all advertisers polled still have zero internet spend and at the other end of the spectrum, only one in six advertisers spend more than 5 per cent of their budgets in the medium.
6. The IAB faces a similar challenge to that of the Radio Advertising Bureau ten years ago. The success of the RAB is arguably down to the compelling research it has produced about the effectiveness of radio, especially when used astutely in combination with other media. Similar work will now be the medium- to long-term goal of the IAB under its new chief executive.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Advertisers will be hearing a lot more about online media and advertising over the coming months.
- The Interactive Advertising Bureau's previous chief executive, Danny Meadows-Klue, joined from the online publishing side of the business and his instincts remained rooted in that discipline. Phillipson will almost certainly be more outward looking.
- Phillipson looks set to focus on targeting advertisers who have traditionally been the most reluctant - particularly FMCG advertisers - to use the medium.
- A longer-term strategy is a campaign to convince advertisers that online can and should be used as a branding medium, not just a sales tool.
- To date, the IAB has irritated many ad agencies, both on the creative and the media sides, by acting as if it represents the entire digital advertising industry. Some agencies feel that their viewpoints have been marginalised. Phillipson's appointment could change this.
- The major media owners have hailed the appointment of Phillipson, claiming he will add even more gravitas to a medium that has been gaining in stature over the past year or so. And they will, of course, expect the phenomenal growth rates to continue come what may.