Opinion: Perspective - Adland could regret not fighting for media brands

If the stats are right, we could be about to lose big chunks of our media heritage. According to Group M, media brands that we've grown up with could be no more by the end of the year.

Newspaper ad revenues are expected to fall 26 per cent across the year (just to give you a flavour of the trend, as recently as March Group M forecast that ad revenues for the sector would be down a more modest 20 per cent this year, while back in December it was optimistically predicting a mere 15 per cent decline).

Regional papers look likely to see ad revenues collapse to the tune of 30 per cent. Magazines could be down 20 per cent. As our own figures for the TV industry (page 2) suggest, broadcast ad revenues are set to fall 15 per cent short of 2008 levels, with more than £470 million coming out of the market this year.

So far the recession has been a fairly healthy detoxification process, clearing out those brands that weren't fit enough for future purpose.

We may, though, be about to pass that point and see the demise of brands that deserve a lifeline. "No previous ad recession has put household media names at risk like this one has, from local newspapers to high-street magazines to national TV channels," the Group M report says. Are there really any "household" name media brands that the advertising industry is happy to sit back and see collapse?

Among all the rather vulture-like analysis of ad revenue declines, I haven't seen any advertising or media company suggest that this industry does anything to help. Yet companies such as Group M have some power to shape how well individual media brands survive the downturn.

It's easy to argue that market forces should be left to take their course. As The New Yorker - quoting the astronaut Frank Borman - wrote last week: "Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell."

But if the strong media players succeed in squeezing out the weaker ones, how happy will the ad industry be when those fewer, stronger players begin to flex their dominance in ad negotiations? Market forces won't be quite so attractive then, I suspect.

I'm not suggesting that agencies redirect precious ad revenue into ailing titles or channels. But it's time to acknowledge that diversity and choice should be protected. Yet agencies have largely ducked a full role in the debate over how best to legislate for a healthy media landscape in the future. In the discussions about Digital Britain and the need for updated legislation to protect, for example, regional media, the advertising industry has had a recessive voice.

If Group M is right and we're about to see the demise of some very high-profile media brands, the ad industry could live to regret its lack of fight.

More depressing stats. According to the Marketing Communications Consultants Association, almost half of UK advertising agencies will cull staff in the next quarter. And this despite the fact that the majority of agencies questioned felt "quite optimistic" about the year ahead.

Clearly, cost-consciousness is top of every agency agenda. So it's not surprising that some are starting to question the value they're getting out of their IPA membership. When salaries are being frozen and jobs are being cut, the IPA - some say - is doing little to reduce its cost burden on its members (the recent IPA bridge-building trip to China has exacerbated frustration as agencies assume it was an all-expenses paid affair).

Of course, the IPA has been doing a good job of persuading the client community of the need to keep spending through the recession. And, of course, the IPA continues to offer its members solid legal, educational and lobbying services. But when all other costs are being squeezed, should the IPA consider reducing the fees it charges agencies?

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