MPG: Putting the Pieces Together

Q&A: Ellen Comely and Ed Montes on Why Size Is Not a Disadvantage

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NEW YORK ( -- Havas' MPG is a media shop that competes against much bigger players in the U.S., and as such has to find ways to use its size to its advantage.
Ed Montes and Ellen Comely
Ed Montes and Ellen Comely

Ellen Comely, exec VP-managing director of MPG Boston, and Ed Montes, exec VP-managing director of Media Contacts North America, MPG's digital sibling, sat down with Ad Age recently to discuss how the agency is staying nimble, and how its experiments with emerging media has changed its game.

Ms. Comely works on McDonald's, Fidelity and AutoZone accounts at MPG. Previously, she has worked BBDO and MediaCom. She is the former chair of the 4A's new media committee. Before joining Media Contacts, Mr. Montes worked at Yahoo as the director of special projects for the company's media, entertainment, information and finance groups.

MediaWorks: Do you think marketers are taking full advantage of emerging media? If not, how can they do better?

Ed Montes: [Marketers] have to be willing to diversify their media mix. And they have to be prepared to apply comparative values or measures. The worst thing that ever happened to the emerging-media marketplace is it became the most measurable. We've created a disadvantage to ourselves. If you look at media consumption and online transactions, marketers are not keeping pace with the amount of volume that has shifted to that media. We have to get better at understanding how we measure the big impact instead of looking at silos. We know that in the online world, display view plus the search view is better than an independent search view and an independent display view, and we've seen that offline media can generate search volume or search impressions, which is a very efficient channel for most advertisers.

Ellen Comely: We have to take away emerging technology and think of it more as evolution and adoption. If you can convince clients that it's not the next big thing ... it's all here to stay. ... It's a different way to plan -- to be piecing together 27 different elements to scroll up to a complete plan. It demands a whole new way of looking at how you are going to reach people, how you are going to measure them and how you are going to measure success. TV is going to start being bought a lot more like online. Not only in terms of measurability and accountability, but you will see people doing smaller buys, much more surgical buying, tying it with everything else.

MediaWorks: Can you think of strategy -- used by MPG or Media Contacts -- that has effectively used emerging media?

Mr. Montes: We've done some interesting things with Amtrak. The social-networking phenomenon has typically been characterized by the youth movement, but we used a social network called that's a slightly older target and we able to use social networking to really impact business results for long-term rail riding.

Ms. Comely: People who actually like riding trains want to talk to their friends about riding trains.

Mr. Montes: We created an environment in order for them to discuss rail travel and in that environment they could share stories. It includes content integration, and an opportunity to discuss and share information about rail travel. It was a smart use of social networking for a target you wouldn't think that's the right application for.

Ms. Comely: What's defining smart strategy is how can you, as communications planners, see where you are taking people at each phase of that purchase funnel process. And at Amtrak, that community aspect was further down the funnel -- people were already engaged in train travel. In trying to drive purchase and acquisition, [we created] a tab in travel settings on Travelocity. All the travel sites have hotels and air sites, but there were no train tabs. So we built it and bought it as part of the process.

MediaWorks: How does MPG compete with some of the larger media-buying agencies?

Ms. Comely: We get that question all the time because we are in an upper-mid-sized holding company and agency. ... The short answer is: We are not concerned about being at a disadvantage based on size. We know for a fact in the negotiating marketplace, based on the deals we do, the prices that we earn, which are then audited and compared against other agencies, that we are competitive on pricing. What we are concerned about and where we do shine is getting in on the ground floor in early thinking with media partners.

We are nimble because we are not big and hamstrung with huge decision-making hierarchies, so we can get back to them quickly. We can move quickly on opportunities with clients. No matter how big a piece of business gets, we still maintain that direct line of decision-making. In the TV marketplace, larger companies tend to come aggregating dollars across the organization and sometimes smaller clients get sucked into fields that may not be custom-designed for them. And we never ever operate that way. It is built from the ground up, client by client by client. Being client-centric and nimble, we haven't had a problem. It's like an old question for us.

Mr. Montes: [Our size also gives us] the ability to integrate across more units and platforms -- such as our video-integration unit. There is a lot of video inventory now, online, on TV, in different places. So we've created a unit to take advantage of the entire organization in the different mediums of video. From a digital perspective, we are really capitalizing on our analytical platform.

MediaWorks: With all the recent emphasis on emerging technology, why do you think the upfront went so well this year for the broadcast networks?

Ms. Comely: Clearly somebody believes that TV isn't dead, which is reassuring. When gross ratings points are down and there are fewer of them and people want them, you are going to have a robust marketplace. That's part of the reason there was a demand in the marketplace. It's still the only game in town for certain kinds of audience aggregation [like] first-mover launch opportunities. And for a lot of people, there still isn't anything that can replace the effect you can get. Ed can argue there are ways of combing digital delivery that can approximate that and there are -- and it's coming -- but for so many marketers that have to ring a cash register on Saturday morning, there is no other way to pull those kinds of numbers together.

MediaWorks: What's your take on the argument that publishers should guarantee individual circulation?

Ms. Comely: Magazines currently are measured twice a year. In this world today, every marketer and every agency is saying, "You've got to be [kidding] me." Yes, it has to change. What they are going to guarantee, what kinds of negotiation structure they're going to play by, is still undetermined. Rapid Reports was going to be the Audit Bureau's answer to a more speedy turnaround time ... it takes time to go and get those answers. But they have to come forward. And they would be wise to create a scaled approach to ultimately guaranteeing on an issue.
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