LET'S ALL HAIL THE NEW STAR OF AD WORLD: WESTERN EXEC TELLS WHY THE MEDIA EXPERT IS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

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At the dawn of the new century, the only constant in advertising is change. Perhaps the most startling transformation is that creativity, the sine qua non of successful persuasion in the mass media past, no longer dominates the communications process.

In a multiple-choice universe, the media plan, not the storyboard, is where successful advertising is really born.

Media's new influence is apparent in the growing prominence of media executives and in the rise of global media management companies, which compete on an equal level with giant multinational ad agencies. More to the point, in review after review sophisticated clients ask first for media thinking, not creative cleverness.

DRIVING THE INDUSTRY

Today media issues, not creative insights, drive the industry. Optimization and recency are dramatically altering conventional thinking about media strategy. Very soon, perhaps a season or two, the broadcast TV networks will follow a growing number of cable networks and accept shorter-length commercials. To appreciate that change, consider how the switch from 60-second spots to :30s changed the face of advertising 35 years ago.

Plus the maneuvering of media empires will continue to hold the fortunes of their marketing partners captive. Just ask the TCI agencies that woke up one day and discovered their client was AT&T Corp., and that they were out of the game. Driving it all is fragmentation, the quintessential agent of advertising change, and that juggernaut isn't slowing down. In fact, it's accelerating.

Consequently, the most aggressive experimentation is being conducted by media pros, not copywriters. Media strategists, not art directors, are preparing for the imminent arrival of the ultimate child of technological change: the marriage of TV and the computer. In the very near-term future, true addressable commercials will be a reality, and the impetus for that advance is coming from media and marketing executives, not creatives.

THE WRONG AUDIENCE

The creative community continues to declare it doesn't matter how or where or when you talk to people if you can't persuade them. That's certainly a valid point of view.

But it's equally true it doesn't matter what you say or how you say it if you're talking to the wrong audience.

Yet it has never been as difficult to reach the right audience as it is today.

Even our measurement tools can't keep up with the blistering pace of change. So it's going to get even tougher.

The media function, then, will become ever more critical in the 21st century. The smart clients know this.

It's time the advertising business acknowledged it as well, because while awards shows may make good copy, the real news lies in a deceptively simple new reality: The media is as important as the message.

Mr. Kassan is president-chief operating officer, Western International Media, Los Angeles.

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