MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE - Are we seeing the end of an in-house media controller?

The in-house media controller has always been something of a

strange beast. Neither fish nor foul, they work at big client companies

doing all the complicated things involving tricky concepts such as TVRs,

GRPs, interstitials and the like that the marketing director hasn't

quite got his head around yet.



Which has meant keeping the media agency in check, enjoying the perks of

the media life (think golf and footie), having lots of lunches with

media agencies and media owners, and suffering the sure knowledge that

they are secretly despised by 'real' media people.



There was a time, of course, when the client media controller was quite

a powerful force. When there were several media agencies working across

a client's brand portfolio, the media controller performed a vital

referee role. Then when media consolidation became all the rage, media

controllers wielded some real clout - the power to giveth or taketh

away, often to the tune of millions of pounds. Waistlines went up in

tandem.



In fairness, many media controllers have performed a key role when it

comes to communications strategy and there's no doubt that advertisers

with their own in-house media resource are, in many cases, more

respected by the media fraternity and achieve good media results. But

now that media centralisation is a fact of life, and now that media

auditors have made a nice business for themselves keeping an eye on

media performance, the media controller looks more disposable.



So perhaps it wasn't so surprising to see that one of the few remaining

- Allied Domecq's Patrick Burton (admittedly lately languishing under

the job title vice-president of integrated brand communications) -

should be going his own way now. He's setting up his own consultancy and

Burton has some sound reasons for thinking advertisers still need what

he's got to offer.



First, most marketers usually spend less than one-twelfth of their

training learning about media (though they go on to spend upwards of 80

per cent of their marketing budget on it). Marketing departments are now

leaner and flatter and there's not the time to tutor newcomers in the

ways of media. And the separation of creative and media agencies means

that there's no longer a traditional agency account person available to

guide an inexperienced marketing manager on media matters.



Meanwhile, purchasing departments and auditors still persist in

squeezing media down to its lowest common denominator at a time when

client cost-cutting has made the in-house media expert an expensive

luxury.



Yes, media agencies have got smarter at attaining a dialogue with

marketing chiefs and chief executives. But media still barely registers

on the radar of most client chief executives - and if economic slowdown

does turn into something more bloody, then the media industry could rue

the demise of the in-house media champion



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