Why a bit of media nous in-house will assist advertisers

About two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the recently appointed in-house media controller of a large multinational advertiser, writes Dominic Mills.

His previous job had been in the company's treasury department, moving chunks of money around the globe to maximise overnight returns and minimise foreign exchange risks. Before that, he had been responsible for purchasing tin across Europe.

As for media, he candidly admitted he didn't know much about it. But he was sure he could learn. He was exceptionally bright, so I shared his confidence. What I wondered was how long he'd be there since he was clearly on a fast-track to corporate superstardom.

At least, here was an advertiser that still believed in the role of an in-house media expert. But it's all too rare. One suspects they're being squeezed out by the twin forces of cost reduction and managements that don't understand (or believe in) the need for an in-house media expert. In short, they're being marginalised to the point of extinction. So we see that Nestle's Philip Buckman is off, and Barclays' Sheila Lamport has been sidelined out. Next year sees the retirement of the daddy of them all, GlaxoSmithKline's John Blakemore. Can GSK find someone to step into his shoes? Will it bother?

I find the trend worrying. One could argue that media knowledge and expertise ought to be the responsibility of the marketing director. True, but they are generalists and, as media grows in complexity, can they really be expected to be expert in all the necessary areas? Few are as engaged with media as Nestle's Andrew Harrison or Toyota's Mike Moran. Besides, if creative agencies have been unable to keep up with the explosion in media channels and choice, and that's arguably a more crucial part of their jobs than it is for a marketing director, what hope has a client got?

The other argument, as one client put it to me, is that you can't really fuck up on media the way you can on an advertising campaign. And anyway, you can always get the auditors to help. That may be right, but it's also short-sighted and narrow-minded. The downside of getting media wrong may be small compared with getting the ad strategy wrong. But the upside of an innovative media policy can be enormous in terms of impact and cost effectiveness. It can also help differentiate an advertiser from its competitors. Having in-house media expertise doesn't guarantee that, but it makes it more likely.

If clients really are to get the most out of their media budgets -- always the biggest single part of their total marketing outlay - then in-house expertise is essential. It's certainly better than leaving media to the purchasing department, which is where too many advertisers think in-house media belongs -- if at all.

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