Marketers Want Media Ideas, Not Protectionism From Agencies

No Longer Is It About Hitting Certain Numbers but in Showing Measurable Change in Consumer Attitudes

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What do Meredith's Matt Petersen, Time Warner's John Partilla, Condé Nast's Richard Beckman and Hearst's Jeff Hammill have in common? They're smart. They're likable (yes, even "Mad Dog" Beckman, whom Gawker once saddled as one of New York's "worst bosses"). And, until recently, it seemed they were tilting at windmills.

They are just four of the more-senior media execs whose job, essentially, is to sell marketers into idea- or consumer-driven programs that make use of a bunch of their companies' different brands, platforms and marketing disciplines. Sounds feasible on the face of it, until you start considering the internal politicking skills ("bribery, blackmail and brute force," as one corporate-sales exec put it) needed to persuade publishers of individual mags, sites or TV channels to co-operate in these endeavors.

More problematic for our creative corporate-sales warriors are the ranks of agency troops massed against them. Firstly, the agencies, as the people jealously guarding their clients' marketing money, have to be constantly reassured that they aren't being circumvented. (They often are, of course.) Secondly, the agencies are only too ready, given the chance, to put the kibosh on some media owner's idea that a client has asked the agency to take a look at or work on. (Twice recently I have heard the details of strategically sound, well-targeted campaigns that have been wrestled to the budget cutting-room floor.)

Media agencies, in particular, have been an impediment to the creative sales folk. Their medium-by-medium departmental buying structures have made it difficult to get a green light for a cross-media project. More-junior agency planners and buyers have tended to be working against some pretty basic metrics -- reach and frequency -- that make programs that aim to achieve a level of engagement or certain behavioral changes of limited interest to them.

But all that is changing.

At least a half-dozen times in the past few weeks, I talked to big-budget marketers who were both desperate and determined to get a better map to today's media landscape and to find better, more innovative ways of working in it. Their one-time obsession with hitting certain numbers has given way to a healthier obsession with showing measurable changes in consumer attitudes or behavior.

They have their reach vehicles, and there are a handful of truly mass-media operators out there that will be a part of what some marketing categories do for many years to come. This will likely include some of the biggest TV players, certainly the major web aggregators such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, maybe one or two outdoor operators, a handful of the most broadly distributed print titles. But reach will figure less prominently for magazine and web publishers and smaller cable operators. For them, the relationships with their audiences will be the key.

What's more, marketers have told their media agencies what they want and are getting it. As J&J's Brian Perkins said at last week's American Magazine Conference, he wants to hear ideas from the media owners, and he trusts the likes of Partilla to bring them to him. Some agencies have moved to construct cross-media buying units. And those agencies that stand in the way of a marketer wanting to get closer to the media had better watch out. Perkins has moved his media people to New York so they'll be accessible to media owners, and several of the automakers are considering similar moves.

The days when media owners could rely on selling off-the-shelf packages are numbered. So, too, are the days of media agencies being able to treat them as if that's all they do.
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