Universal McCann's UM Cross Media Council, to be announced this week, is its response to recently launched media company cross-selling entities, such as Viacom Plus, News Corp. One and the Solutions Group of AOL Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting System.
The Cross Media Council, which could in effect be called a "cross-buying" platform, will be chaired by Bill Cella, VP-director of broadcast and programming at Universal McCann, the media arm of Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide.
The council will include the heads of the different buying and planning groups at Universal McCann, including communication planning, national broadcast and programming, local broadcast, strategic print services, outdoor and interactive, as well as from the ethnic marketing and direct response areas.
"We'll develop a structure in which we meet regularly and discuss opportunities that come across each other's desks," Mr. Cella said.
The group also will include senior strategists from McCann, described by Mark Stewart, regional director of Universal McCann North America as "people who are closer to the brand and manage the clients' business on a day-to-day basis."
Other large media agencies, such as Bcom3 Group's Starcom and WPP Group's MindShare, are said to be working on cross-platform deals, but they have not set up groups dedicated solely to that task. Universal McCann's council is one of the first.
"We are just putting it all into a more formalized structure and process," Mr. Stewart said, "to be able to initiate and respond to some of these media conglomerate cross-platform deals that are getting a bit more traction out there." Mr. Stewart said the council already has a few small cross-selling deals in the works, but would not disclose details.
Mr. Stewart noted that after the AOL Time Warner merger was announced last year, "I had five guys from individual divisions of that group calling and saying that they were going to be our contact." He suggested that for the cross-selling and buying initiatives to work, they have to be organized and "have fewer empowered people involved."
The council also appears to be a proactive attempt to fend off the suggestion-which has been floated about the media industry-that the media company's cross-platform drives really are an attempt to deal directly with clients and avoid the middleman; in other words, the media agencies.
"We've got the benefit of knowing the client's communications plan, and we get to deploy that," Mr. Stewart said.
The benefits to media companies are clear: They hope to rake in more advertising by offering more services in the cross-platform approach.
For advertisers, Mr. Stewart discerns two benefits: "I would put both in the category of going deep. That is, there are deeper discounts in terms of pricing. And secondly, there is deeper involvement with their customers, the consumers [by using a broad range of media]."
Joe Mangione, senior VP at Turner Broadcasting's Solutions Group, sees the cross-platform approach as the future of the marketing business. "As marketers and media companies consolidate," he said, "the ability to build major partnerships is going to be critical because we are leveraging each other's assets. It's not just a transactional business anymore. There is such a fragmentation of media that it is really hard for the big marketers to sort through all of it. They have to find the right big media partners, such as a company like ours, which can reach consumers in virtually every medium."
Mr. Cella agrees the approach is ripe with opportunities. "On the supply side, they are realizing that they are spending a lot of money on all the assets that they now have, and they've got to try to sell them as a unit, if it makes sense. This really will be a true test of partnership agreements because we both need each other to work out deals, and I think there is a lot of openness on both sides about making things happen. You've got to keep the client happy."