The new-media wave has washed ashore in many agency departments, including creative, account services, research and development, PR and direct marketing. Yet the media department's role in handling such newcomers as interactive media still is ambiguous.
"Interactive media are still very experimental, and money spent on it, as well as resources devoted to it, come from lots of different places within the agency," says Steve Kleinenberg, director of new business at Digital Facades, a West Coast multimedia production house.
Because the interactive industry has yet to agree on a standard online measurement or tracking system, it's been difficult for traditional media buyers to fully understand or feel comfortable working with new media.
"Once there is legitimate data to study, then new media will work basically the same way as television or print," says Mr. Kleinenberg, a former information analyst at Chiat/Day, Venice, Calif.
In fact, interactive often has been compared with cable TV in its early days.
"Ten or 12 years ago, media planners were uncomfortable with cable because they didn't know how it worked," says Wes Dubin, senior VP-electronic ventures at DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.
"No one really understands yet how to place new electronic media, even the so-called specialists. But I know if we educate our employees they'll know just as much as the specialists," he adds.
While traditional media planners certainly will need to immerse themselves in interactive media to understand how they work, new-media buyers and planners will need to learn the skills and techniques of a traditional media strategist.
"Traditional media buyers need to dedicate themselves to understanding interactive media and how consumers interact," says John Nardone, director of consumer products at Modem Media, Westport, Conn. "On the flip side, someone into interactive media may know much about the World Wide Web but is less likely to be trained in evaluating the appropriateness of editorial content or negotiating tough media deals."
Further blurring the role of the media department is that planners who handle new media, unlike those who work with traditional media, have creative-related responsibilities. Often, the creative department or a specialty production shop will both develop and place the marketer's message.
"With interactive media, there needs to be a seamlessness between content and advertisement," says Mr. Nardone. "Our media planners focus on figuring out strategic ways of marrying content with advertising, because that's where the consumers will go."
To keep up to speed in the interactive age, most agencies and marketers already have hired new-media experts within their companies, or contracted with an outside specialist.
Poppe Tyson, New York, has formed a division called Poppe.com, which focuses on getting clients up and running on the web.
The agency's traditional media department concentrates only on traditional media, while Poppe.com handles interactive media.
"I'm interested in learning about new media, but I still see traditional media roles staying very much intact," says Joanna Carides, a media planner at Poppe Tyson. "I probably won't get too involved because of Poppe.com, and I by no means see new media taking over traditional media."
Poppe.com, which also acts as the Internet group for Poppe Tyson's parent company Bozell Worldwide, was set up separately from the traditional media department. "We formed Poppe.com not for media buying, but because there were some unique production problems to solve with interactive media," says David Carlick, senior VP-general manager of Poppe.com.
"Interactive is growing so quickly, we haven't been able to assemble a training program for traditional agency people. Those interested get involved and learn themselves," he adds.
New-media experts, however, see things differently, and say the blurring distinctions will continue.
"They call it new media for a reason," says Scott Heiferman, president of Interactive Traffic, an interactive media planning company. "Just like a great print ad won't do anything if it isn't well placed, a great online site won't do anything if it isn't strategically linked. And many traditional agencies need help in getting up to speed in interactive."M
Poppe.com focuses on getting Poppe Tyson clients up and running on the World Wide Web and solving production problems.