MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Accountability lies at the heart of new media's latest rise

For obvious reasons, the IPA's Bellwether report on client spending generally tries to be as positive as possible about the industry outlook.

The latest report though has about as little cheer as a Lisa Big Brother eviction.

The new figures reveal that client budget cuts are the most severe since the last quarter of 2001, and it's the tenth quarterly fall in a row for above the line. Blame disappointing sales and revenue growth, oh and the absence of any rah-rah-rah upturn in confidence after the end of the Iraq war. But blame, too, those canny advertisers who are shifting spend into more accountable and flexible communications.

Such as new media. Once again the internet is the only medium to snaffle an increase in spend. The growth has slowed a little, but the number of advertisers spending more than 10 per cent of their marketing budget on internet activity has reached a new high of 7.4 per cent.

Forget all the statistics, though, and consider the return of the dotcom deal as tangible evidence of the medium's new maturity. Yahoo!'s purchase of Overture Services this week was a potent shot into the veins of the new-media industry. The latest in a series of acquisitions to fuel a new spate of internet growth, the deal saw Yahoo! pay £999 million for the online advertising group and new-media stocks jumped at the news.

Yahoo! claims the deal will create a compelling array of advertising opportunities, "branding, paid placement, graphical ads, text links, multimedia and contextual advertising". Certainly, broadening the menu for advertisers will be crucial to strengthening new media's case as a tool for sophisticated integrated communications.

New media's accountability - the ability to monitor clicks - is no doubt helping to fuel the momentum recorded by the Bellwether report, but the medium is still too often seen as too one-dimensional, particularly creatively.

A greater focus on enriching the advertising experience is overdue, particularly when you consider that advertising tagged to paid-for-search results get a modest 2 per cent response rate but that this is still about ten times higher than you'd get from a banner ad.

And the fact that the Overture purchase pitches Yahoo! head to head with the mighty Google should also inspire some interesting advertising innovations in the paid-for-search advertising sector, currently worth $2 billion and expected to top $5 billion by 2006.

With the emergence of a handful of blue-chip new-media companies, the sector is gaining respectability. For those marketing services companies who pulled the plug on their own new-media investments as quickly as they had paraded overblown, superficial new-media credentials in the boom, it's time to put new media back firmly on the strategic agenda. This time, let's hope it's backed by informed, solutions-neutral thinking rather than the desire to chase a bandwagon.