The Media View

Context Crisis: Why Agencies Need Media Directors Most

Recession, Digital Focus Killing Off Generalists We Still Need

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Bob Rose
Bob Rose
If you ask a plumber what's wrong with a house, he'll almost certainly tell you that it's the plumbing. Ask a social media specialist how to jump-start a client's business and what do you think she'll say? "Dial up the investment in social media!"

Both our experts would be correct ... some of the time. But who's looking at the big picture? Who's looking at the condition of the whole house?

In media management it's the experienced, talented media director who sees the big picture, has an arsenal of resources to draw from, and the strength of personality to organize, mobilize and energize disparate platform gurus to create layered programs that really work.

Here's the problem: The media director is a dying breed.

All I have to do is look at my inbox. It's full of resumes of senior-level people -- field generals in some of the most important advertising campaigns -- who were caught between the big boss and the younger, cheaper planners. And from the pace and volume of e-mail, it looks like the battle of attrition is still raging.

Most of the talk and media coverage on the Great Recession has been about people like this losing jobs -- people who may not get back into the advertising or media business in any meaningful way. The deeper tragedy for our business is what leaves with them: relationships with and between media, experience that's attained not taught, and mentoring that makes people and agencies smarter over time.

The recession, coupled with job specialization (and a host of other factors), is draining generalist talent -- and the best, most thoughtful and most expensive talent is being sacrificed fast. That leaves a younger generation of specialty-focused, online-centric advertising people who lack the broader education to appreciate the context across media -- which is what's required to integrate all of today's powerful media.

We're seeing the effects of this already. For example, I think the shock the print medium is experiencing financially is more the result of online-centric advertising people steering spending away from newspapers and magazines than it is the true decline in that medium's efficacy. (The decline in ad spending in print is a much worse challenge than maintaining audience levels for the medium.) Today's media people are at the core of this de-valuation of print because it is a bias of their training to think digitally; it is not a reflection of an objective evaluation of the print medium's value.

The same imbalance is applying in other media sectors.

This is a defining time for media. Mastering the interrelationships between a mind-blowing number of new communications platforms means real, sustainable advantage for a brand; the more options we have, the more essential it is to see the whole picture and put the right pieces together in the right way. And we need generalists to answer it.

Fixing the problem
How do we keep these people in the business? That's the most important question of 2010.

We start by taking a stand: Experienced generalists are a priority. It is possible to save them even when the CFO hands down a draconian number for the media department to eliminate.

To do that, we have to change our management math. Cheap doesn't mean efficient. Effectiveness is the real efficiency. Two or three junior specialists -- people trained to evaluate and execute a portion of a media plan -- do not equal one senior-level generalist, as much as you want them to. They can actually cost far more. It takes them time to figure out things generalists have ingrained. Then you have to fill in their gaps, cover for what they don't know how to do yet, and ease the discomfort inexperience triggers in a client.

So take the generalists out of the command post and put them on the front lines again. You're never too senior to do the real job of planning. And the deeper you get in the mix, the more seamlessly your experience -- real-world context you can't get in training -- transmits to the next generation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Bob Rose is exec VP-director of account services and media operations at Seiter & Miller Advertising, a New York-based agency whose clients include BDO, Kyocera, New York University and Smith & Wollensky.

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