The Biz: Universal McCann to work seller side

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Can an agency that represents buyers also advise the sellers? Mark Stewart, exec VP-chief strategy officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' media buying company Universal McCann, believes the answer is yes.

Universal McCann recently launched a division called Connections, a consulting and research unit that will advise media buyers and sellers on better ways to reach consumers. Connections helps familiarize marketers with media opportunities in TV, cable, radio and outdoor, but it will also advise media companies how to create brands that are attractive to viewers.

"It's a different type of relationship," Stewart says. "If we are negotiating a deal, that comes through the buy side of our business. [Connections] is all about understanding the relationship between media brands and their customers." The unit consults with cable networks, magazines and Web sites that are not Universal McCann clients, as well as the shop's advertising clients and clients of sibling creative agency McCann-Erickson Worldwide. But the emphasis is clearly on bringing in outside business.

DIFFERENTIATION

Connections is currently working with a publishing company-which Stewart would not identify-to help it differentiate its publications from one another. "They have a similar category of magazines," Stewart says. "We are identifying the different attitudes, mindsets and behaviors of their readers, going beyond demographics, to establish the soul of each brand."

It also recently worked with a cable network that was contemplating changing its market position. "And they really wanted to know what were the pros and cons," Stewart says. "We looked into what would happen if they went from one type of network to another type." (Stewart notes the network was not Viacom's TNN, recently rebranded as SpikeTV.)

"We are basically positioning ourselves as `insights for hire,"' Stewart says.

Media companies don't see a problem. "We do use advertising agencies occasionally to advertise our own brands," says Michael Propper, senior VP-director of marketing services at AOL Time Warner's Turner Broadcasting. Propper had not heard of Connections before but said: "It does not surprise me that they might come out with something that could help us correctly position at TBS or CNN. I don't find that at all a conflict."

Over the years, Universal McCann has developed several marketing tools used by marketers such as Johnson & Johnson, Sony, and Coca-Cola Co. to understand different media and how effective they are. "Media in Mind" taps into a huge database of consumers, 5,000 adults and teenagers, asking questions about how they use different types of media. "Brand Engage" is what the agency calls its focus group work and "InTuition" is an online polling system that can survey up to 3,000 respondents with any kind of media or brand question.

"What we were thinking was ... there's an opportunity here to make it available on a project basis, as opposed to having to engage with us in a full media relationship," Stewart says. Connections charges for its services on a project fee basis, not through commission.

INSIGHTS

Stewart is assisted at Connections by Susan Nathan and Jonathan Swallen, both senior VP-director of media knowledge at Universal, and Marston Allen, senior VP-director of communications architecture.

"We will mostly be working with media owners as clients," Nathan says. "We will develop insights for them, helping them understand their readers or viewers better."

"The better we understand the different audiences for the disparate media brands, the better we can help the media owners differentiate themselves," Swallen says. "At the same time, we have insights that we can leverage for [Universal McCann] clients to put the right brand, the right message with the right context, in the right media vehicle at the right moment in time."

Stewart is quick to point out that this is "complementary as opposed to being a conflict."

"There will be certain things that we know that will give our clients an advantage that we will not share or make available to our media clients, of course," Stewart says, "but we think this will do two things. Number one, the media owners will better understand the rules of engagement about how we-and our clients-are thinking about their products, and as a process these people will be able to develop how they go to market in a much more informed way. So it works better for the business that they are going to get."

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