Media shaker

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Everyone suspects Goliath, especially when he's selling too hard. Cross-platform media selling has that image problem. Buyers see much of it as a labored attempt to use market presence to increase price.

But cross-platform deals are being made, and certainly media sellers are putting a lot of money into the concept. These are among the few departments hiring. Is it a wise investment on their part? Will it bring in big dollars? Change the way media are bought and sold?

I think it has a shot.

To find our way through the smoke, we need to define terms. Cross platform isn't an act; it's a circus. I've seen at least four kinds being pitched, and they are very different.

The mother of them all is "value added." Buy our radio network and you'll sponsor our rock concert. Buy our cable network and you'll be in our magazine and on our Web site. That kind of selling has been around for years.

Then there is "media packaging," or the discount-for-share deal. You already buy TV, radio and outdoor. Put more total dollars on our TV, radio and outdoor and you'll buy them all for less. It's a volume-discount approach encouraged by the weak economy.

Next is the more complicated "integrated marketing" deal-also known as the "transformational" deal, or the "marketing partnership." It goes something like this:

"Here's a terrific financial marketing idea our creative people have come up with that leverages the value of our media properties to increase the value of your brand.

"The theme is `Retire before you die,' which ties to your brand's key promise. We'll combine four investment sections in two of our magazines with sponsorship of our cable network's financial news and we'll make the host available for six wakes. We'll add our Web site's chat room on `depression,' and we'll throw-in an old-timers' game on our sports channel with nine baseball hall-of-famers, including the Babe, to do testimonials."

This flight-of-fancy describes the idea-driven media cost-plus program.

Finally, if that's too rich, you can buy a fraction of the above in the top five markets for the month of October. Sorry, Merrill Lynch has an option for January. That is event marketing. Essentially, it's a promotion.

So cross-platform media deals range in complexity from value-added to simple packaging to the full-scale production number-and the pricing follows.

Ferraris in a Ford market

I think the production number-the premium-priced, integrated-marketing programs that sellers like to showcase, are the infrequent Ferrari in a world that shops Ford.

These "marketing partnerships" require ideas-that-fit as well as inventory. They need to be hand fashioned, take time and are very difficult to pull off. "A complete brand solution" (the Viacom Plus phrase) is one in 100.

There are major unresolved problems on the buying side. Where does the money come from? Only the media budget is large enough to take the hit, so integrated marketing packages have to make it through the media agen-cy. Few media agencies are competent to evaluate them. They just look at the pieces and ask: "Is it a good way to spend $100 million?"

"Media packaging," on the other hand, is far more familiar. Based entirely on inventory and cost-per-thousand, it can be built into a multibillion dollar business (as the TV upfront demonstrates). So the big cross-platform media deal money is in media packaging. It's discount for share: easy to do and evaluate, with obvious value to many advertisers.

Finally, the cross-platform discount-for-share deal can change the way media is bought and sold because it enables another transformational media idea: "media mix."

Media-mix planning is not an invention of planners. It is a response to changes in the business. These are: recency planning, which argues that advertising today mainly influences brand selection by reminding consumers when they are actually in the market (this focuses planners on continuity and reach); fragmentation, which reduces TV's cost-effectiveness; and marketing-mix modeling, which shows diminishing response to media concentration. Media-mix promises more effective advertising by increasing reach and continuity, reducing dependence on TV and improving response.

Advertisers believe they should use combinations of media. But most worry spreading the dollars will bring higher costs, not better schedules. They worry about losing "clout." Discount-for-share deals help finesse the clout issue because, if we flip it over, cross-platform packaging is media-mix on a budget-albeit from one supplier. That's the tangible buyer benefit from cross-platform. By concentrating their media dollars, advertisers can get more media options at a lower total cost.

I think that's a sale.

Erwin Ephron is a partner in Ephron, Papazian & Ephron, New York, a media consultancy (ephronny@aol.com).

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