What I Did on My Summer Vacation

And What Publishers Can Look Forward to

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
About 10 years ago, my wife persuaded me to spend most of August in Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard, a tradition that we have continued every year since. It took a little getting used to -- about 10 minutes to be exact -- but I have finally mastered the art of doing nothing for days on end.

Still, it seems that every August I'm in the middle of a contract negotiation, or a new business pitch, or there's one meeting that I really want to attend.

This year I agreed to participate in an American Business Media panel, "Advertising in an Economic Downturn," in New York City. So, last week I left the beach early, said goodbye to the family and took a very small plane from Martha's Vineyard to LaGuardia to spend a day in the city.

One of the draws for the trip was that I got to meet two agency principals with whom I occasionally compete: Tom Stein, president-CEO of Stein Rogan, and John Favalo, a managing partner of Eric Mower & Associates. The three of us were going to share the stage and address a group of publishers who wanted to know what trends and opportunities advertising agencies saw in this current market. Tom and I managed to get together the evening before, and he demonstrated the worst traits that you want to see in a competitor. He's completely engaging, a wonderful thinker about our profession and a great storyteller. Within a few minutes, I knew I had made a new friend. Just my luck, John was equally likable, and he and I are planning a dinner in Boston this fall. I'm not surprised at the success of either of them.

The panel turned into a spirited conversation that covered everything from the new business climate, observations about client spending in tight times, measurement strategies, the elevated role of content programs, lead generation, and the explosion of video for the small screen. I don't think I could do justice to all the good points made by Tom and John, but here are a handful of my opinions about business in these interesting times.

In the new business arena, while marketing problems may remain the same, we're seeing a change in what opens doors and starts conversations with prospects. There seems to be an insatiable interest in social-media programs that can connect with customers in the online communities that they frequent. We've also developed widgets as part of two campaigns. In both cases, these desktop applications deliver dynamic content that the audience can interact with in some way. Prospective clients express a lot of interest in how they can integrate these technology applications into their campaigns.

All the panelists agreed that tough times cause the pendulum to swing toward lead-generation programs. At PJA, we've had success with guaranteed sales leads, where clients only pay for qualified leads.

We see a big shift in media consumption, with a strong interest in low-cost or free media channels. Most of our clients are sponsoring content on user communities and beginning to establish a presence on channels like YouTube. Increasingly, we find ourselves developing campaigns around these low-cost channels and supplementing with paid media, almost a complete flip from earlier years.

While not an earth-shattering point, evidence continues to show the importance of the corporate website as part of the decision-making process, especially for complex sales. That should be plenty of motivation for companies to treat their websites like independent media channels that can compete with the multitude of other emerging channels for their customers' attention.

A final question asked by the moderator was what advice each of us had for publishers. For me that was easy. The better they can make their websites, the more successful the campaigns that we run on those sites will be. That means publishers need to increase their use of video and treat their sites more like user communities where customers will spend a lot of time. Then we know we're making a good investment for our clients.
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