Media Perspective: Honesty is the best policy for modern media networks

Pity the poor media network.

The onset of global recession combined with the challenges created by the digitisation of mass media means that it has been something approximating hard work to make millions out of media planning and buying.

Yet this hard graft might lead us to something more rewarding. In recent weeks, media networks, notably Interpublic's Mediabrands and Publicis' Starcom MediaVest Group, have made positive noises about investing in people and new services. Laura Desmond, the global chief executive of Starcom, told me, soon after she announced the recent global restructure, that as a side-effect of the downturn: "There is no doubt that an innovation crisis is emerging because there has been so little 'what if?' work being done."

Starcom's response to this is a new structure to provide a greater focus on emerging markets while digitising its agencies, and offering stronger services in areas such as data and analytics. It goes further, though, in making moves to collapse its regional silo structure, which, like in every other network, risks promoting dull uniformity.

Iain Jacob, Starcom's European chief, will take on the role of president, global innovation, in this new structure and it's to be hoped that its new system of hubs in ten big cities works so that he can truly focus on delivering this innovation. Desmond is correct in her comment - Mindshare was the last of the networks to announce anything approaching innovation and that was close to two years ago - and perhaps it will be Starcom with its moves to be "a human experience agency" that will gain an advantage among modern media networks.

It's certainly the case that media networks are in need of new inspiration and a leap in providing more flexible, tailored services. They don't get so rich winning media buying pitches anymore so it's time to be cleverer.

And now is the right moment because media agencies are set to enter the third phase of the downturn. The first seemed to be characterised by agency fears relating to client credit worthiness and "will you go bust?", the second by aggressive advertisers asking agencies "have you delivered what you promised me?", and the third by a broadly more positive era of agencies demonstrating the impact they can have on a client's business. Within this, there seems to be a genuine position for a media network to come out as honest and transparent in its approach. A bit of quiet muttering about being Sarbanes-Oxley-compliant is hardly going to cut it.

I know at least a couple of networks are looking at this and they should get out into the market right away. "The Transparency Agency" would pack a punch for those networks with closets genuinely lacking skeletons clutching brown envelopes.

- ian.darby@haymarket.com

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