This year's 4A's Media Conference was given the title "Digital Changes Everything." That much is a truism accepted by most many moons ago, but what became evident as the panels and speeches at this year's event unfolded is that the digitization of our lives is raising questions a lot of media owners and agencies are far from being able to answer.
Nowhere was this more obvious than during a key panel, moderated by Aegis Media Americas CEO David Verklin, called "Are Traditional Media Really Adjusting to the New Digital World?" The event always features a panel in which execs from different media outlets -- print, radio, Yellow Pages and the like -- try to tout the advantages their particular venue has over all the others. This year, however, they spent more time on the back foot as they were peppered with Mr. Verklin's aggressive questions.
For example: to Frank Comerford, the president and general manager of WNBC: "What are the lessons you've learned over the last 24 months -- besides humility?" To David J. Field, president-CEO of radio company Entercom Communications Corp.: "Is the radio industry in decline?" To John Squires, exec VP of Time Warner's Time Inc.: "Are magazines on the decline?"
As the executives replied, dwelling as often on their sectors' woes as much as on how they're actually tackling the challenges, Mr. Verklin often responded with a rather blasé "fantastic." But there's nothing fantastic these days about trying to run a media business or place advertising in one. In speech after speech at the 4A's confab, executives sounded nervous and anxious -- even fearful -- as they described how digital technology has given rise to dozens of media venues, each with its own set of metrics for determining the success, effectiveness and reach of advertising.
There's plenty of disruption, the various speakers suggested, but not enough progress to offset it. In the digital-media space, "we are reaching a point where the traditional measurements are reaching a breaking point," said Konrad Feldman, the co-founder and CEO of Quantcast, an internet-rating service.
What's needed, said several media buyers attending the conference, is a more comprehensive system for figuring out how ads perform across multiple platforms. Unfortunately, a panacea simply isn't at the ready and may not be for months.
"Models right now don't have the capacity to bring all the touch points together," said Donna Speciale, president-investment and activation at Publicis Groupe's MediaVest USA. As more dollars flow from traditional TV and print to digital venues, she said, "we have to determine what the correlations of all the various metrics are across all the platforms." Ms. Speciale said her agency will focus for the next six months to a year on ways to weave data together to give clients a more comprehensive look at how their ads perform.
It's easier said than done. This is fast becoming a world filled with niche media: a college-alumni listserv might number in the hundreds; fans of a blog might number in the dozens. But the ad industry has for decades relied on measures that gauge the masses, such as Nielsen ratings and circulation numbers.
Media outlets and ratings gurus are scrambling to update their methodologies, but it's hardly easy going. A TV network may find it has hundreds to thousands more viewers of the programs it streams on the web or makes available for download on an iPod or other mobile device. It may also nab hundreds more viewers who record a show on a DVR.
What's not clear, however, is whether all of these eyeballs are of the same quality. How is a marketer to know whether the teen watching a scene from "Gossip Girl" online is also watching the full program on the CW or represents an unduplicated viewer who would add to the larger reach of the show and its accompanying ads?
Further muddying the waters: Different advertisers want different elements measured, frustrating attempts to create a standardized system. "We're finding that what we need to measure is different for every client," said Jeremy Lockhorn, director-emerging media and video innovation at Avenue A/ Razorfish, noting that some clients might measure the success of a campaign with click through rates and cost per clicks, while others think engagement metrics like time spent with video or time spent with widget are more important. Many advertisers these days simply try to monitor consumer sentiment in the blogosphere, not the most quantifiable thing in the world.
A number of different metrics companies and emerging media are pressing forward. Nielsen Co. said in a letter to clients in February that it expects to begin measuring TV and web viewing in the same household, and could even have some data available in time for upfront negotiations in May, although the data won't be able to be used as "currency."
Media living together
ESPN and Nielsen have teamed up to examine the impact of TV promotions in driving people to the internet and of web promotions driving people to ESPN programs. They are also examining how people might view TV and web-streamed content at the same time. National CineMedia, which places advertising across a network of movie screens, recently signed a pact with IAG Research, a firm that measures recall and likability of various commercials -- a sign that emerging media want to provide information to marketers that goes beyond the old standards of reach and frequency.
Advertisers long have had to contend with different types of data. The ability to weave them together now has become paramount, said Ms. Speciale, especially as video featuring the same programming travels from the TV screen to the web to new venues, such as gas stations or shopping malls.
Perhaps Marc Goldstein said it best. In opening remarks at the conference, Mr. Goldstein, CEO of WPP Group's Group M North America and chair of the 4A's Media Policy Committee, expressed ambivalence about the unsteady media landscape. "It's a little bit of what Dickens described as the best of times and the worst of times," he said. "It's wondrously challenging, dynamic, stimulating and exciting. Yet at the same time, frustrating, uncertain and, at times, confusing. To paraphrase Bette Davis in 'All About Eve': Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride."
Reporter's Notebook: Seen and Heard in OrlandoMore than 1,600 attendees arrived on Wednesday for the 4A's Media Conference last week to Rosen Shingle Creek -- a resort whose name prompted more than one joke about skin disease ("I've caught me the Rosen Shingles") -- only to be greeted by cloudy skies that soon delivered on their ominous promise of rain showers. That meant fewer chances to sneak out to the pool or golf course, leaving everyone inside to contemplate the equally cloudy business outlook. Here's a look at what people were saying in the hallways and from the podium.
Group M's CEO and 4A's Media Policy Committee Chair Marc Goldstein noted in his opening address that recent developments in measurement, such as C3 and second-by-second ratings, set-top-box data and a move toward addressability, will put added pressure on marketers to respect consumer privacy. "The advertising and marketing industries have a so-so record of protecting privacy," he said. "This is something we are all going to have to think very long and hard about. All I'm saying is: Be prepared."
What's one reason that Wall Street is so bearish on media stocks? "Too much competition and not enough differentiation among offerings," said Alexis Quadrani, senior managing director, Bear Stearns & Co. Later, she noted that all that competition among media sellers ultimately will prove to be a good thing for agencies, as marketers will come to see them as "an invaluable adviser to guide them through a complicated landscape."
In a panel on "the new digital world," David Verklin asked WNBC president-general manager Frank Comerford: "What are the lessons you've learned over the past 24 months -- besides humility?"
Later, a sighting of David Verklin and Jack Klues sauntering through the Palm steakhouse in Orlando within minutes of each other prompted some observers to think there was a big summit of media-buying chiefs going on (there wasn't).
The reaction of Tim Armstrong, Google's president-advertising and commerce, when he found the start of his talk delayed while he waited for his slides to tee up for his presentation: "Damn Microsoft."
After cursing Microsoft, his first slide turned out to be a picture of Dumbo, meant to represent "the elephant in the room" on the question of whether Google is trying to get into the agency business. (His answer? No, no, no.)
Starcom USA senior VP-Video Innovations Director Tracey Scheppach wore a "Free the Data" button, saying she wants to start a campaign to get cable, satellite and telecoms to release information from their set-top boxes that will help marketers get a better sense of how TV viewers are behaving and what they respond to on TV.
Jon Stimmel, director-media buying, Unilever USA, after talking about the company's increasing use of branded content online such as "In the Motherhood," and Axe's efforts on Heavy.com, reminded attendees to keep their eyes on the ball. "As sexy as the entertainment business is for people who work on soap and mayonnaise, we have to remember it's not our core business."
Kevin Holowicki, director-integrated marketing and media, GlaxoSmithKline, while explaining how pharma brands can use educational branded content to reach its targets, said, "There's a huge opportunity to reach older women." That prompted a burst of applause from one enthusiastic older woman attendee and the shout out of "Thank You!" Talk about one-on-one engagement.