Advocating for Making Local Buying Easier

Q&A: MindShare's Local-TV Expert Kathy Crawford

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After more than 30 years in the media business, Kathy Crawford is set to retire this month from her post as president of local broadcast for WPP's MindShare North America. But she's not going quietly. Ms. Crawford will continue to advocate for a more streamlined local broadcast buying process in her retirement, by working with Group M CEO Irwin Gotlieb and the 4As on Project Reinvention, an initiative that seeks to review and reorganize local broadcast buying operations.
Kathy Crawford
Kathy Crawford

During her career, Ms. Crawford emerged as one of the industry's go-to experts on local broadcast and became a leader in the movement to introduce electronic media to the buying process. Ms. Crawford has worked on many sides of the broadcast industry, beginning her career in the TV rep business, working at stations, including WTTG in Washington, D.C., and eventually joining the agency side at Western International Media (now Initiative). She landed at MindShare in 2003.

MediaWorks: You've witnessed much change in local broadcast throughout your career. What do see as some of the biggest challenges to arise since the beginning of your career?

Kathy Crawford: Fragmentation [has made] the local broadcast buyer's job very difficult. Buyers have certain functions that they do every time they make a buy, and one is to estimate ratings in the scheme of things. You know, 25 years ago in order to get to 100 rating points, we would only have to estimate maybe 10 different programs -- I am just going to talk about prime time only. Then we would negotiate those 10 and buy four of them because they were all at 25 points. Today, buyers have to estimate more than 50 spots, because they have to purchase about 50 in order to get to 100 [rating points], because the average rating went from that 25 that we purchased 25 years ago down to a two.

Now with the digital transition taking place [in February 2009 all broadcast stations in the U.S. will begin broadcasting only in digital], the idea is that the TV stations will now be able to have four, not just one channel. And as a result of that, the average rating goes from a two to a .5. That's why the goal of Project Reinvention is to make that process more effective, and it will take a change in the way in which we estimate and negotiate and so on. ... That means we don't do it the way we do it today. We do it in a new and different way that uses the technology that is now available to streamline this process.

MediaWorks: Nielsen recently introduced a new data stream for local broadcast, L3. Do you think that is a good currency for buying local ads?

Ms. Crawford: They are calling it L3, but I really wish they weren't, because a lot of people have confused it with C3. It's not the same data. It is taking three days worth of DVR viewing playback and making that a part of the stream. So instead of having live-plus-seven, you have live-plus-three. That's really what it is. We are currently using live, and many agencies locally are using live for many reasons. I'll just give you one. When you have regional pieces of business where the sale is over in three days, like Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the sale dates, you can't wait for three days. That third-day playback isn't going to solve your sales problem, and nobody is going to go to the store during the sale. So obviously that's a big issue, and the more retail you have, the more live you are going to use. Perhaps live will become used either forever as the currency or [there will be an] iteration of live-plus-three and live depending on what the account is.

MediaWorks: Metrics are a big challenge for all buyers. Where do you see need for improvement?

Ms. Crawford: Every client has their own needs and I think that it's very difficult. Look, if I had it my way, the database would be much larger, we would have much more stable data and we would be able to estimate ratings with some hope that those estimates were correct. Today, we really don't have that. Nielsen provides us with a calculator that allows us to look at what is the potential swing in the data -- is it plus or minus three, is it plus or minus 10, is it plus or minus four? In the case of LPMs [local people meters], it's a little easier for you to have a closer tab on it, because you get the tabs on it every day. The problem is that the daily numbers are not as stable as the average weekly numbers, so you end up having to know several streams. The problem is that you are requiring a buyer to know all of this information, and it's quite unrealistic to expect buyers and sellers to be research people.

MediaWorks: Group M recently reorganized its local broadcast buying operations [MindShare, MediaCom and Mediaedge:cia were consolidated into two separate teams to leverage buys more efficiently]. How has that reorganization impacted buying operations?

Ms. Crawford: It's the right thing to do at the right time. I have been a proponent of this for several years, because it allows for them to have a single process, a single negotiating platform and a database of training. And I think it's a wonderful thing for our clients. They get the advantage of having the best of all worlds that have been out there, MindShare, Mediaedge and MediaCom, and it's very exciting and it's the next chapter of local broadcast. It would not surprise me if others did the same thing.
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