Media Perspective: Will 2009 go down as the year media sold itself short?

2009 will be remembered as the year in which UK media adopted Del Boy Trotter economics.

"Buy high, sell low" became a reality as agencies were placed in the absurd position of buying media space before essentially selling it to their clients for less, following a series of mad, global pitches that left UK agencies to dig themselves out of some rather silly bother.

And we thought the bankers were stupid. The problem now being: where to screw that money back from. In recent weeks, there have been suggestions that one or two client/agency relationships are under pressure as we wait for the first in a series of deals where the wheels come off and agencies are forced to write large cheques for missing the numbers. Bending over and taking it for the network can't be very pleasant but it's just one of those things that agencies might have to grow used to.

For those of us who enjoy creative ideas in media, it's been no fun watching the trading model stretched to breaking point. In a not entirely unconnected development, this greater commoditisation of trading looks set to be hastened by consolidation in the TV sales market. For instance, the demise of Viacom Brand Solutions following Sky Media's capture of the MTV sales contract is another potentially worrying trend for those who value creative solutions delivered in media.

Yet change hasn't been all bad. This year we've seen proactive agencies restructuring to provide their buyers with greater flexibility and scope in their roles. It was also exciting to witness the emergence of a range of media, from Twitter, to interactive TV advertising to iPhone apps, that are making media agencies more interesting places to be.

And, notwithstanding the downturn, it's also the year during which some traditional media brands have grown stronger. It was encouraging to witness The Daily Telegraph's MPs expenses story consolidate the title's reputation and grow sales. The Sun, meanwhile, continues to sell more than three million copies and remains a brilliant brand that spends millions on news gathering.

Content and editorial values at growing brands such as Sky Sports, Living TV, The Week and The Economist remain high. All exist outside the world of commodity and have built strong values that have improved during the downturn because they are respected places to turn to. The way forward, as it has always been, lies in strong brands and relationships with audiences rather than hand-wringing about whether this is built through print or online.

This won't go away but at least we have Christmas and next year's World Cup to look forward to. Right now, though, a tracksuit from Shepherd's Bush market seems a more fitting seasonal gift than a bespoke Savile Row number.


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