Great minds think alike: Experiment or die

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Faced with an industry and a world in which control over media is rapidly shifting from the content creators to the users, four of the industry's brightest minds-WPP Group's Sir Martin Sorrell; Draft's Howard Draft; Chuck Porter of Crispin Porter & Bogusky; and Lachlan Murdoch of News Corp.-debated whether their business models and livelihoods are, well, obsolete.

"If we're complacent, we are," said Mr. Murdoch, deputy chief operating officer, News Corp. So his company, as a media seller, is experimenting with changing the traditional model of ad sales. "The current two-to-three-minute commercial pod is a stupid idea." News Corp., with its addressable TV partner Visible World, is testing a variety of short and long formats.

Still, not one of the participants conceded that all is lost in "Building a Better Mousetrap," a panel moderated June 22 by Advertising Age's Editor Scott Donaton. But all did acknowledge that they've got to respond to a fast-changing world.

Mr. Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, questioned a tenet of today's conventional wisdom. He refused to accept that unbundling of media has birthed the current trend by large marketers to eschew global networks for creative hot shops in search of the freshest creative thinking. "That sort of move has always happened," he said, recalling the success of the Saatchi brothers years ago. "Clients will experiment with different structures. Our job is to experiment with different ones, too." Otherwise, there will be trouble.

Howard Draft, CEO of direct-marketing company Draft, predicted that consumer control is being enabled by changes in technology and media. Understanding how to put messages in the right place, at the right time, will determine marketplace success.

Mr. Porter, of Miami-based Crispin Porter, an agency famous for its quirky media-and-creative campaigns, summed up the future bluntly. "The dumbest thing you can do is think in terms of one medium. The biggest problem this industry has is laziness. It is a hard thing to do to think differently."

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