NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Zenith Media is merging its magazine division with its digital division, training members of each group to work fluently in the other medium and assigning its top magazine executive to report to its digital chief. It's the latest example of the way digital media is reshaping the way ad agencies think about print and other more established media.
"The training has gone both ways, and ahead of time, and now we've rolled it out to the first group of clients," said John Nitti, senior VP-managing director of digital, who leads the combined group. "We're going to have one integrated team that's going to have one conversation."
Although the magazine group is the first to be combined with digital at Zenith, the changes aren't likely to end there. Most kinds of content are becoming increasingly digital, Mr. Nitti said, so holding digital expertise apart is becoming less tenable. "It's the right first step but it's not the last step," he said.
The merger is about reaching consumers across media, not savings or layoffs at the agency, executives said. The old print group employed about 20 people while the digital division employed 55; the combined practice, which has added some employees, now actually employs about 80.
"We wanted to stay with the times and stay very current and maximize the benefits of both groups, one group that understands audiences so well and one group that understands content so well," said Steven Bloom, senior VP-director for magazines at Zenith, who previously reported to Zenith President Dave Penski but reports to Mr. Nitti under the new structure. "That cross-learning and sharing between the groups has opened up a new set of opportunities and ideation."
"We want people who can talk to each side of the house," Mr. Bloom added. "It should make our integrations a lot more seamless and make us more nimble in the way we spot new ideas."
Starcom's different approach
Some other agencies are striving for similar goals, but others are proceeding differently. Two weeks ago, MediaVest USA's publishing group hired a digital specialist, Razorfish and OgilvyOne veteran Sarah Baehr, to fill the new post of senior VP-director of digital publishing solutions. Ms. Baehr reports to Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of publisher investment and activation. MediaVest also already operates a "Cross-Athletes Program" to train its buyers to work across platforms. But it is not planning to actually merging its print and digital operations.
"Bringing in our digital director reporting to me solidifies the foundation on which the group was built, building upon that from a publishing perspective," Ms. Steinberg said. "I don't want to dilute the situation. I want to make it a richer experience."
A magazine executive said there wasn't one right way forward for media agencies -- so long as they move forward. "We're doing more and more and more integrated programs," said Michael Brownstein, exec VP-chief revenue officer at Meredith National Media Group. "All the media has to work together. I think it's smart that we're talking to people who understand how all the magazines, websites and mobile work together."
"I don't think there's one model," Mr. Brownstein said. "There's no one way you have to do it. What's important is that it's good to have knowledge of multimedia."
Of course it's not just agencies that need cross-media expertise. "We met very early with each of the heads of the major publishing houses and let them know this is what we're doing," Mr. Nitti said. "In those meetings everybody said, 'This is smart and good.' But now that it's reality I'm interested who rises to the top and can actually execute."
Follow Nat Ives on Twitter.