Upon the first whispers that Viacom planned to cleave into two companies, pundits were quick to sound a death knell for the cross-media ad deal. If a colossus like Viacom couldn't make the concept work, they reasoned, who could? The obituaries noted that while cross-media deals positively crackled in theory, pulling them off in the real world had proved a task on par with planning the royal nuptials. Then it was on to the usual "next big thing" prattle.
The media giant's cross-platform Viacom Plus unit hasn't gone the way of the dodo bird. News Corp. and Walt Disney Co. haven't shown any inclination to subdivide their holdings in a comparable manner. And while marketers understandably aren't as eager to enter into these arrangements as are communications behemoths with ad time and space to sell, marketers seem almost confused by the chatter about cross-media's demise.
MUST REMAIN ON TABLE
The deals "are complicated and sometimes unwieldy, but they're still very much on everybody's radar. To say, `They're dead,' oversimplifies things quite a bit," says Chris Allen, VP-national broadcast supervisor at Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, Texas. Adds Peter Gardiner, partner-chief media officer at Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York: "It depends on the client, obviously, but I can't imagine operating in a marketplace without having things like that on the table."
To be sure, more than a few doubters remain. Cross-media deals "were never worth the amount of time and effort put into them," says Michael Gallant, a CIBC World Markets media and Internet analyst who tracks Viacom and other conglomerates. But heading into TV's upfront bazaar, marketers clearly remain intrigued by the across-the-board promise inherent in cross-media arrangements.
Whether such complex deals, which by their nature can include multiple TV shows and other ad media, can be constructed during the frenzy of upfront is another question. "You need a tight team, not 70 people running around between agency, media company and client," says Rich Gagnon, president of Interpublic's FCB Media Worldwide, New York. The elusive "big idea" tends not to flourish in a negotiation-first environment. Other factors limiting the probability of such deals during the upfront include a relative lack of deadline pressure for putting together cross-media arrangements. "You can get shut out of other things during the upfront," Mr. Gagnon says. "It's not like upfront closes the door on [cross-media] deals."
Don't tell this to cross-platform communications giants, however, which see no reason why they can't make it happen if client and media shop are similarly motivated. They also stress that despite all the cross-media hype, at no point have they ever attempted to ram such agreements down advertisers' throats-and they're not about to start now.
"When this approach became viable, many people thought it would take over. But everything you read about `the new business model'-we never bought into that," says Viacom Plus Exec VP Lisa McCarthy. "For us, it was simply another team and another approach. If a marketer wants to create something only with Nickelodeon, it's not like we'll try to prevent them from going straight to the source."
won't get in the way
Same goes for John Partilla, president of Time Warner Global Marketing: "If a client comes in with a clear understanding that he or she wants to begin a dialogue with a certain division or brand, we certainly won't get in the way of that." As for his group's outlook heading into the upfront, Mr. Partilla says simply, "I'm seeing more open-minded people than not."
Pushing a cross-media agenda hardest in the weeks leading up to the upfront may be Scripps Networks, which for the second straight year presented all its cable properties to advertisers in a single sit-down. The reason for doing this, says Steve Gigliotti, exec VP-advertising and emerging media, is that Scripps' 14 platforms (this figure includes video-on-demand channels) boast complementary themes and programming.
While some media folks privately scoff at that notion, especially after the recent pickup of the music-centric Great American Country cable network, Mr. Gigliotti and his team have proved adept at cementing larger deals. He estimates that 80% of advertisers buy more than one platform at a time.
One marketer that bought what Scripps was selling was Whirlpool Corp. In advance of the upfront, the appliance marketer expanded its partnership with Scripps' DIY Network, Home & Garden Television and Fine Living network to further promote its affiliation with Habitat for Humanity. Whirlpool has even brought GAC on board: Country music fans will be able to catch the "Reba McEntire Habitat for Humanity Concert Tour Presented by Whirlpool" at amphitheaters this summer, with GAC airing updates and related content.
believe in habitat
"There are some economic efficiencies [in this deal], sure," says Jeff Terry, senior manager of Habitat for Humanity at Whirlpool. "But beyond that, their audience is right for us. They're the people who believe in and are touched by Habitat."
"The challenge comes when, say, we have an existing relationship with a person who sells TV or online or whatever for Viacom," says GSD&M's Mr. Allen. "We don't have the time, or the inclination really, to start a new relationship with somebody in one of their internal groups."
And there remain longstanding concerns about the B-word: bundling. Fair or not, some media planners and buyers complain that as part of any cross-media arrangement, they inevitably end up with a few properties they don't want. While this alone doesn't seem to have soured anybody on the deals, it sure hasn't helped. Even Scripps' Mr. Gigliotti concedes: "As a buyer, I'd probably think that you're trying to load some of the bad goods on me. It's on us to prove that's not the case."
As for the future of cross-media deals and the units that coordinate them, a survey of 40 Time Warner Global Marketing clients conducted on the group's behalf by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates painted a predictably rosy picture: 81% believe that integrated marketing groups will become more rather than less important in the future. The mountains of research compiled by media giants, however, won't amount to much unless they're able to persuade advertisers that they're piecing together properties in a creative, compelling manner.
Back to Viacom Plus, the unit whose corporate daddy prompted the most recent wave of cross-media skepticism. "We're still very much in business," Ms. McCarthy says. "The value in cross-platform has to come in terms of `Wow, that's an idea we'd never have had on our own.' So long as we keep doing that, I don't see why we'd be going anywhere anytime soon."
Snapshot of a cross-media deal: Scripps Networks and Whirlpool
* Much of the activity centers on Habitat for Humanity since it?s a key cause-marketing initiative for Whirlpool and Scripps? DIY Network.
* On DIY--sponsorship of "Lending a Hand" public affairs initiative, which includes on-air workshop on building a Habitat House, two 1-hour specials, a 3-hour weekend on-air event and a co-branded content area in the "Habitat" section of DIYnetwork.com.
* On Home & Garden Television--sponsorship of kitchen and bath special.
* On Fine Living--sponsorship of 2-minute "Fine Living Essentials" vignettes.
* On all Scripps networks--minute-long vignettes featuring the Whirlpool branding message; custom programming consisting of two half-hours about Whirlpool?s association with Habitat.