Media Perspective: Are cross-media solutions providing the right answers?

How wrong you can be. I'd long suspected that the hype surrounding "cross-media solutions" (that buzz-phrase of five or more years ago) had died a death.

But last week, a full seven years after Emap launched Emap Advertising, an announcement from Time Warner pushed the issue right back on to the agenda.

Time Warner has launched something that it is calling the Time Warner UK Advertising Council, which, it says, will offer a "one-stop shop" for advertisers by providing access to online, TV, print, films, video, mobile and music content. Representatives from its UK businesses (AOL UK, IPC Media and Turner Broadcasting) will sit on the council and attempt to offer clients the "success of a big idea that works across all platforms".

I don't really blame Time Warner for doing this, but I can't help but wonder what might be in this for the client. It's clearly a convenient and cost-effective way for a media group and its subsidiaries to bring in some extra revenue, and even for a media agency, in some circumstances, there are advantages. But I've seen little evidence over time that this sort of set-up benefits advertisers, either by creating better value or better ideas. Why stick with one media group for a campaign when you can use your own and your agency's insights and negotiation clout to get the best from a wider market?

Things, though, have moved on a long way since cross-media was first talked about. Now cross-platform trading within one media owner is common, and the creation of special campaigns by a media owner across media is on the increase. Yet it seems to me that media owners aren't helping themselves when espousing this type of sell.

Take a recent example from News International. It put out a statement to coincide with the release of the September ABC newspaper data that pronounced: "Phew! What a scorcher! Record September for The Sun's three platforms." All fine, until you realise that The Sun's circulation actually fell, despite a coverprice reduction in the South-East to 20p.

This information was buried in the 11th line of the announcement, while the top-line "record month" figure for September also comprised internet and mobile traffic to yield an "aggregate audience" of 22.2 million. Now, while The Sun deserves credit for its mobile and online product developments, this seemed to me a staggeringly cynical and blatant move to use cross-media audience figures (accrued from a variety of unrelated sources) to paper over the cracks of a disappointing September for print sales.

I can't see a cross-platform sell being helped by this sort of defensive behaviour. For it to work, it is incumbent on media owners to promote their successes responsibly and not as a smokescreen for their failings elsewhere.