Media Perspective: Media entering a new era is no time to sit on the sidelines

Ian Darby is away on holiday. Last week, he called and asked me if I could do his column.

"I'll try," I said. "But what do you want me to write about?" As ever, Ian went penetratingly to the point: "Well, Mark, the market is really tough right now and I thought it might be interesting to hear why a renowned grumpy old git, like yourself, has decided to return to full-on action."

Fair enough, and apart from my wife chucking me out of her house (for daytime hours only, thankfully), the big reason I wanted to wade back in is because I think this communications era is going to be more exciting than the last. Now, I don't want to make light of the profound issues every aspect of the industry faces. The headline trends and the sheer scale of them really do tell the story. The media world has turned. We shouldn't assume that it will turn back, ever. That's why I think it's rather exciting. Once we get over the inconvenience that we'll have to think of new disciplines rather than assuming the old models, currencies and practices will serve us as sufficiently well in the future.

I think of the previous era as the "age of assumption". Wherever we sat in the marketing communications mix, we've been able to succeed by assuming a lot without really constructing much. Media vehicles expanded, commercial messaging abounded and exposure currencies perpetuated the illusion of impact. In buoyant economic times, we could assume persistent proliferation of absolutely everything was perfectly fine. In reality, we assumed too much. Audiences are smarter than our assumptions. They turned out to be human. Like most humans when they're shown the opportunity of a better future, they throw themselves at it with scant regard for the past order. As practitioners, we now need to embrace this environment with the mindset of today's audience, not the assumptions of yesterday's industry.

Media is more pivotal to our lives than it ever has been. Increasingly, we literally can't leave home without it. This is a magical phenomenon to be dealing with as marketing communicators. The challenge is to respect it while also making the most of it. My feeling is that we are now in an "age of construction" for brands. An age increasingly shaped through audiences' relationships with the media and brands they love to consume, play with and contribute to. Every aspect of our content creation needs to respect this powerful dynamic and, crucially, our media planning needs to be brave enough to reflect the behavioural reality.

Audiences are making the most of today's media environment - our challenge is to join them. We should do this in the confidence that when we get it right now, they love it more palpably than they did before. That seems worth filling the day with!

Ian Darby is away.