Editorial: Let cross-media rise on its merits

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Don't give up on the cross-media deal, but don't be afraid to insist on better ideas and better execution. AOL Time Warner failed to deliver on its grand promise to be "the world's first fully integrated media and communications company for the Internet Century." But the cross-media concept still can work-if deals are designed to meet the needs of marketers.

Robertson Stephens' Internet analyst, on the day the America Online/Time Warner merger was announced, enthused, "This move can catapult the combined company into the No. 1 spot as the largest company in the world." That same week the Dow peaked at 11,750. That world has changed, for marketers as well as AOL Time Warner.

Marketers today must deliver promised profits using conservative accounting; that puts pressure on variable expenses such as marketing. On the revenue side, companies need to convince skittish consumers to buy. Marketers, meanwhile, are looking for non-advertising alternatives-product placements, entertainment tie-ins, sponsorships-to reach ad-zapping consumers. Connect the dots and there's opportunity for cross-platform deals-if they let marketers do more for less, reach hard-to-reach consumers, extend beyond traditional advertising and sell product.

How should media companies proceed? Take a bottom-up approach. Let ideas percolate up from divisions rather than be decreed from the top. Work through agencies rather than trying an end-run to the client. Think smaller, not grandiose.

The cross-media idea fell victim to its own hype. Marketers have every reason to be skeptical about who is being served here. Lofty promises to Wall Street put too much pressure on a concept that needs nurturing. The future of the cross-media deal is not assured and it can't blossom overnight. It can only be built by delivering, one case at a time, successful outcomes to marketers and agencies. It's time for the cross-media sellers to take a breath and dig in for the long haul.

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