Media Perspective: New platforms can have modernising effect on agencies

The success of The Social Network, the David Fincher-directed film about Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, is probably as much to do with some great reviews than anything.

But its achievement in topping the US box office last weekend also underlined that social networks, notably Facebook with its 500 million global users, have moved far beyond their geek origins.

Advertisers and their media agencies have been only too happy to support Facebook's ad platform. Scale of audience remains crucial to many advertisers and Google (now 12 years old) and younger online success stories such as Facebook and Twitter certainly provide this.

Other media owners must be aware of this scale. Especially newspapers. News International is attempting to push a new sales approach, which shifts away from the traditional single column centimetre rate system to one more closely linked to size of audience. Separately, word was doing the rounds last week that the ABC Council was knee-deep in a debate over whether to merge newspaper circulation data for online and offline into one headline figure. Consensus on this may be hard to achieve but it's clear why UK newspapers would favour such a move - creating at a stroke titles with a UK "circulation" of between 15 million to 20 million rather than a few hundred thousand.

Yet the likes of Facebook and Twitter have an advantage that is less tangible than scale: their ad solutions have been built from the ground up around a whole new model. They are not old-school media owners that still, on the whole, continue to push content out to readers to be passively consumed.

It's easy to be cynical about Twitter but it's set to create large revenues from advertising ($1.5 billion by 2013, according to its own projections) and I was impressed by the freshness of its approach when it presented its ad plans in London a fortnight ago. Twitter's sales director, Amanda Levy, admitted to its ad solutions being very basic and in their infancy and wants to work with agencies and advertisers rather than arrogantly expecting the dough to flood in.

For agencies, the emergence of these new platforms and the need to understand and exploit them is a great opportunity. They have done little to change their structures over the past 20 years but now have the opportunity to build an interesting business around data and consumer behaviour and grow relationships with existing clients rather than having to constantly chase new business.

Media agencies still need top planners, traders and client people but with the increased automation of buying, they are set to become leaner, fitter and more rewarding places in which to work. Anyway, that, as I move aside to hand this column to Jeremy Lee, is my optimistic prognosis.

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