A Downturn Is Just the Market's Way of Opening Doors

At Media Mavens 2008: The Smart Folks Are Looking for Opportunities

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The Chinese symbol for crisis actually contains two characters, one that symbolizes danger and one that symbolizes opportunity, said Nick Brien, CEO of Interpublic's MediaBrands, to attendees at Advertising Age's annual Media Mavens lunch, held today in New York City. And it was an idea embraced by his fellow panelists, that through this dismal downturn in the economy will arise opportunities for innovation and reinvention.
Nick Brien
Nick Brien Credit: Scott Gries

Ad Age honored 16 agency and marketer executives who are at the forefront of changing how the industry thinks about using media to reach consumers. About 375 attendees gathered at a lunch to hear what the executives had to say about the upcoming year.

"As our clients talk to us about cutting budgets, we need to remind them that we can't cut innovation," said Mr. Brien.

Softer prices
Another Maven honoree, Joseph Abruzzo, exec VP-director of research for MPG North America, reminded the crowd that recessions tend to be short -- the most recent one lasted about 11 months. While he thinks this one will be longer than that, he noted that one opportunity that presents itself immediately is softer prices for media. "You want to keep building your brand, and the good news is it will cost you a little less to do it," he said.
Joe Abruzzo
Joe Abruzzo

Rob Master, director-North American media for Unilever, also noted that keeping up brand awareness through a recession is vital. "Brands matter more than ever in tough times. Consumers can't afford to take a risk when buying something," and they want to be reassured that they are making the best choice for their dollar.

Jackie Woodward, VP-marketing services for MillerCoors, sees the downturn as a time to understand what value means to consumers at every price point. "We are going to continue to market across the portfolio," she said, joking that more people staying home is likely to lead to more people drinking beer.

Good news for TV
Antony Young, an honoree and president of Optimedia U.S., acknowledged that broadcast TV has had a tough year, but one outcome of a recession is that people will be spending more time at home, and that will mean in increase in TV watching. "Consumers want to feel positive, so those of us who are out there with positive messages will do better. The quickest way to recovery is if people start feeling more confident and want to spend again, so keeping positive is going to be a key way you can win," he said.
Antony Young
Antony Young Credit: Susan J. Chen

Another media poised to benefit next year is mobile. Chris Schembri, VP-media services at AT&T and a 2008 Media Maven, believes this is a great time to be in mobile, given the opportunity to take "small buckets of money" and experiment. AT&T plans to use the new iPhone and other platforms to test various commercial interactions with its own advertising, and then share what they discover with other advertisers looking to use mobile. Mr. Schembri also put forth an idea to reinvent the phone booth into a "privacy booth" where someone with a mobile device can duck into a booth with a screen, plug in their mobile device, and conduct a conference call or other business. "Mobility and portability are not going away, people want to take their social networks with them. We should help them do that," he said.

Value of data
Joshua Spanier, director-communications strategy at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, agreed that "anything that fits into the palm or your hand is important. The centrality of convergence devices is only going to increase." He added that understanding how consumers are using their phones is the next step in connecting with them.
Joshua Spanier
Joshua Spanier Credit: Claude Shade

Randy Peterson, digital innovation manager at Procter & Gamble Co., talked about the recent decision to trade executives with Google as a way for the packaged goods marketer to "really understand the value of the data and analytics" that is now available from digital interactions. He said that Google now produces data on nearly every medium, and that makes return on investment decisions easier. "Data beats opinion, so go get the data," he told attendees.
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