NEW MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON IPA DIGITAL MARKETING GROUP - A new agenda for IPA's digital group as Owen takes the lead

The IPA's Digital Marketing Group's new chairman has plans, Alasdair Reid writes.

The IPA's Digital Marketing Group has a new chairman: John Owen, the communications director of Starcom Motive. This may come as something of a surprise - largely because you've probably forgotten that the IPA even has a Digital Marketing Group.

This is not to imply criticism of the committee's previous work or indeed of its outgoing chairman, Alan McCulloch, formerly the client services director of Zentropy Partners. But it does reflect the fact that digital media is home to an alphabet soup of trade body acronyms.

It's also in no small part a reflection of the fact that, since the dotcom bubble popped a couple of years back, there has been a crisis of confidence in the ad industry regarding digital - especially online advertising. And as the recession loomed, many agency groups hived off much of their digital expertise into their direct marketing arms and thus, potentially, outside the remit of the IPA.

This has led to increased debate about exactly where digital lies within the marketing mix - and, indeed, whether the trade body most likely to take a lead in this area is actually the Direct Marketing Association.

DMA-affiliated agencies, for instance, account for more of the UK's online advertising market than IPA agencies.

This has led to some media and ad agencies feeling somewhat adrift - a situation that was put into perspective a few months back when the Internet Advertising Bureau, which primarily represents online publishers, issued an idiots' guide to online advertising. The tone of this document infuriated many ad agency creatives working in the digital field.

So, arguably, Owen - a former news editor of Campaign - has his work cut out if the IPA is serious about establishing (or re-establishing) a voice for itself. But one clear signal of its determination to boost its commitment and resource is the fact that Owen will work with two vice-chairmen: Ben Christie, the interactive solutions director of PHDiQ, and Nick Gutfreund, the managing director of i-level.

So what is on the agenda? First, Owen wants to underline the fact that the group's remit embraces creative just as surely as it does media - and its scope will extend to all forms of digital activity, from the internet to digital TV and wireless. The principle underpinning everything will be the drive to demonstrate value for clients.

He states: "The issue that never goes away is audience measurement and we will address that. We now have a single commercial supplier, Nielsen (set to acquire NetValue). It will have a monopoly, which is good in some respects because it is a single source but also potentially problematical."

The other big issue, he says, will be promoting creativity. "It's about looking at the creative work that's out there and, at present, there's no real showcase for that. The wonderful thing about the internet is the range of formats you can use."

But he stresses that it's going to be important to ensure participation from as many member agencies as possible. This will be music to the ears of the IPA's critics - too often in the past, they say, its digital efforts have been, at best, under-resourced.

Robert Horler, the managing director of Carat Interactive, says it's also important for Owen to work with other industry bodies. "Ideally, the group should work more closely with the Internet Advertising Bureau than it has in the past. Although the IAB encourages the participation of agencies, they don't have voting rights and it really represents media owners. The DMA represents some of our interests but again it historically has had a separate agenda. We need a common voice for the industry when it comes to issues such as common standards and measurement, transparency and ensuring that clients are getting value for money. And we need clear benchmarks."

Paul Longhurst, a managing partner of The Allmond Partnership, echoes much of that. "It (the IPA) has a clear role in finding common standards on industry issues, for instance measurement bodies and methodologies. It could help consolidate the acceptance (by online publishers) of ABC audits. Its activities should be an extension of what the IPA does in other parts of the industry in terms of measurability and accountability. It should also dovetail with what people such as the IAB are doing. The IAB has been getting more coherent and consistent but it doesn't help the industry if it keeps going off at a tangent."

Other groups are clearly keen to work with the IPA group. Robert Dirkovski, the head of interactive media at the DMA, states: "Giving this sector additional support makes sense for the IPA generally, given the convergence of media. We have been applying considerable resources to interactive media and we feel it is crucial to represent this sector. We also feel it is important to have reciprocal relationships with other bodies especially in the context of European legislation. It's also good to have a cross-fertilisation of ideas."

So what's the bottom line? Is this a good appointment? Absolutely, Horler says. "John knows a lot about media and we respect what he does - and we feel we have something in common because what he has been doing at Starcom Motive was not in isolation (from the rest of the marketing mix). So he has an excellent perspective on the industry. He has great credibility. It's a good appointment."

Longhurst doesn't disagree. "You'd have to be optimistic because I don't think John would have taken this on lightly or without a lot of thought. He has the common sense, the diplomatic skills and the communications abilities to succeed."

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