Media should look to new year with a sense of optimism

As seasonal tokens go, Zenith Optimedia has probably just come up with something better than any of us are likely to find in our stocking this Christmas... signs of recovery in the ad market, writes Claire Beale.

Before you go and get all overexcited, it's modest stuff. Zenith expects the two-year advertising recession to end with a 1% real global growth in 2003. In the UK, that's still -0.4% at constant prices, 2.1% at current prices. Only by 2004 will we see real growth of 0.5% here. But I can think of few better sign-offs to what has been a stinker of a year, without exception.

In the same vein, I'd like to offer a few heart-warming thoughts about why, despite such a pooey 12 months, this is still a great place to be. For starters, for all the redundancies, pay freezes and bonus cuts that have ravaged the business this year, the media industry has continued to innovate and surprise.

Tough economic times have been the green flag to ever more creative media thinking and a continued raising of the game. The pressure on ad budgets has seen a new emphasis on broader communications, on a redefinition of media that is taking the business into new marketing areas and well beyond the commodity trading bedrock. There is so much new thinking to be proud of this year. And for anyone who moans that working in such a richly stimulating environment is not a fair swap for plump pay rises, it's undoubtedly true that media salaries have got out of hand over the past few years and a bit of a reality check is no bad thing for the overall health of the business.

And if you ever doubted that media (however you care to define it now) really is rising in stature, this was the year when everyone (oh, all right... everyone with a "smart" gene and a survival instinct) wanted a piece of media action. Is media the new creative? Well, it's certainly as fashionable in the wider industry as that phrase implies, and that's a great opportunity for anyone who really knows what they're talking about.

But perhaps the most reassuring thing about the past 12 months is that this remains at heart a business where people matter. It might seem an odd observation in the wake of so many redundancies, particularly when few of those jobs that have been cut will be reinstated in better times.

But looking back over the past year, when things could really have been painted blacker than Ozzy Osbourne's brand of hair dye, the enthusiasm and commitment and belief that has characterised so many people's response to the difficulties of downturn has been remarkable. Even the cynical, world-weary chiefs beholden to the Americans seem to have rediscovered some of their old entrepreneurial zeal to tackle the issues. And in all of this lies the real reason for optimism going forward. Forgive the uncharacteristic schmaltz, it's Christmas.

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