Universal McCann's Search For ROI

Kent, Kite offer views on the future of integrated media

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% While many of their brethren have been criticized for clinging to old models and the hegemony of the :30-second commercial, Universal McCann Worldwide, Advertising Age's U.S. Media Agency of the Year for 2002, has taken a decidedly forward-looking approach. Led by Chairman-CEO Robin Kent, Universal McCann is devoted to an integrated communications approach for its global client base, which includes Coca-Cola Co.

Kent and his global research director, Jim Kite—recently relocated from London to New York to focus on the U.S. business—sat down with Madison+Vine to discuss their views of the increasingly complex marketplace.

M+V:What do you see as the more promising alternative marketing platforms in terms of entertainment-oriented solutions?

JK: As far as client-supplied programming and product integration, it can only get bigger and bigger. It comes back to putting value on these things. Many clients are spending half their marketing communications budgets on platforms that are not being measured. The big question is are these things adding anything unique or are they just duplication. The fusion of insight and metrics—how do they work and what do they bring—will grow in importance in the next few years.

M+V: How are you preparing for the onslaught of PVRs now that the cable operators and satellite guys are starting to roll out their next generation of set-top boxes?

JK: You have to be ready like a boy scout. Outside of the commercial skipping, for people who live in busy households, having control of the programming will be a strong sales proposition. These products need to be priced and marketed well. And we're doing experiments with TiVo to help our clients like Coke. But there are still going to be millions of people who won't want to schedule their own programs; they'll continue to want networks to do it for them.

M+V: If PVRs do ultimately reach mass penetration, and the network ad-supported model is damaged, how do you adjust? Will we start to see subscription-based TV and will consumers stand for it?

RK: I never believe the figures people put out because no one ever seems to predict the future correctly. But we'll see. There are always going to be ways to reach consumers; we just have to be smarter and more compelling about it. For example, broadband is going to reach 25% by end of this year. Streaming opportunities are huge. As for a subscription model, paying for mass television in this marketplace is going to be tough for consumers to buy into. Already we're asking them to pay a lot for their mobile phones, for cable.

M+V: Tell me your ideas in terms of developing acceptable, standardized ROI metrics for product integration.

JK: The metric will have two sides—efficiency and effectiveness. How many times does the brand appear on the show and how many people saw the show. That's straightforward accounting. That's not the end of it because being in the program is saying more about the brand than being in the break. It's the connection of viewer and that program. That linkage only works if there is connection between brand values and program.

M+V: How much of a challenge is it to push through media-neutral marketing solutions when the creative agency is still tethered to the 30-second commercial?

RK: It's too easy to criticize a traditional ad agency of being obsessed with the 30-second commercial. What we have to continue to do is to educate the different elements of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup on the holistic communication process and this would be true for any holding company. This is why a media company like ours has brought in a creative director like Alan Schulman. Alan is a link between the new platforms and the creative work that appears on it.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% M+V: Will we see clients doing more of their own programming as opposed to jumping in towards the back end?

RK: We're already doing that with Magna [Global Entertainment] and Robert Riesenberg. And we're not limiting it to one client. Robert's got about a dozen programs going into next year. Some may fit a Coca-Cola, some may fit a General Motors, and some may fit a Johnson & Johnson. Clients certainly have to experiment and some of it will work and some of it won't.

M+V: The film industry continues to up the ante in terms of production and marketing costs. Do you see yourselves getting more involved in terms of quality control for clients?

RK: One of the problems that exists with movies is it's hit-and-miss in terms of success. In Hollywood, if a studio exec makes 20 films a year, and only 3 succeed, he still keeps his job and gets a huge bonus. With those odds, it's difficult for us to recommend to clients that they should be putting their money into movies. But we're starting to work with companies where we look at a portfolio of film opportunities and are trying to put in place measurement systems that allow us to value a film. And we need to be weaving the brands into the script from the get-go. I've met with all the talent agencies and others and there's great opportunity for us to work together. We already work well with CAA on Coke because of "American Idol."

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