NEW ORLEANS (AdAge.com) -- Omnicom Media Group's Page Thompson, CEO-North America, threw down a challenge to the media agencies at the final panel of this year's 4A's Media Conference & Tradeshow concerning the broadcast TV upfront market.
"If we come out of the upfront with the same result as the last 15 years, shame on us," he said, referring to the period when networks routinely sell between 75% and 80% of their ad inventory for the coming fall season during glitzy sales sessions that take place in May and June. The dismal economy has one silver lining: to give the industry the ability to change models, Mr. Thompson said. "This allows us to restructure, to streamline, and it allows us to change the currency we use to buy." His hope: that the industry can change to an ad-buying metric that reflects a marketer's return on investment, rather than the current, decades-old reach and frequency models.
Not very realistic
Group M's Global CEO Irwin Gotlieb, however, was quick to note that getting a new buying currency in place in time for the upfront is not very realistic. And in the past 10 years, he said, media agencies have done a good job moving beyond reach and frequency and capturing what the ROI is throughout the so-called purchase funnel, not just at the very bottom, which is the easiest to calculate and often a short-term solution.
"But just because a marketplace currency isn't tied to ROI doesn't mean the media agencies shouldn't be held accountable for ROI results," he said. "I'd rather be accountable on ROI than to simply say to a vendor, 'Turn this currency into ROI currency.' We have to get on with it. It will take too long if we wait for that."
TV has always been the lead component of ad spending for many marketers because of its reach, visual capability and effectiveness at all stages of the purchase funnel, which tracks consumer behavior from awareness to purchase.
Messrs. Thompson and Gotlieb were both participants on the last panel of the day, moderated by Advertising Age Editor Jonah Bloom and titled "Heads of Media Families Make You an Offer You Can't Refuse."
Mr. Thompson said an ROI currency does exist, and it's called direct-response TV. "The digital world is going there too. We are moving to an era of greater accountability, with set-top-box data and other data. Why can't we accelerate this? If we don't try now, when we as media agencies have more control than ever before, we are going to go down the same path, and we'll have only ourselves to blame."
Coming out of this recession, media agencies will be working off a model of greater accountability, one that is more sophisticated, more social and more transactional, said Aegis Media CEO Jerry Buhlmann.
While ROI is very important, Mr. Gotlieb said, he wants to be sure that "we don't go down a path that ignores other aspects of marketing." Certain investments, he said, take more than a year or two to pay off. If the first time a consumer sees an ad for a luxury car is when he's 45 and finally able to afford it, it's too late. The industry needs to put the idea of that car in front of him when he is 15. Marketing has to focus on all components from the bottom of that purchase funnel to the top.
"In difficult times, the shortest effect is easiest to measure, but as marketers we have to focus on all aspects," he said.
MPG Global CEO Maria Luisa Francoli agreed that the current crisis gives media agencies an opportunity to make a change, but she said change should occur within the agency-client relationship. "We can get together and focus on business results. The best client relationships we have had are when we have very open dialogue that allows us to together focus on the goal of improving their business."