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What's a Media Company?

  |  November 21, 2008   |  Comments

Media is no longer a simple buy/sell preposition. Agencies and media companies alike ignore this at their peril.

"Where's the media company?"

This question was the first shouted out by an audience member to a panel consisting of way too many agency reps, together with Chrysler CMO Deborah Meyer. They were presenting Chrysler's massive Dodge Ram campaign -- and doing so overwhelmingly from a creative and production perspective -- at the Interactive Advertising Bureau's (IAB's) recent New Wizards of Digital Marketing Conference.

The reply was no one was available from the media side. (Not to mention how many cooks were already in that kitchen, from agencies both large and small. It was an overpopulated panel.)

But it was a good point. None of the IAB's newly designated interactive wizards hailed from media agencies. When media people did appear on the roster as speakers, they were from what might be considered internal digital agencies within traditional media companies, such as NBC Universal's new Digital Studio, which creates and distributes branded entertainment under the network's banner, such as "Gemini Division." There was plenty of talk of traditional media companies, such as publisher Meredith, which now offers what amounts to agency services. That the media buy is on its own publications is a foregone conclusion.

It wasn't that long ago that advertising agencies, which were originally formed for the primary purpose of buying media, farmed out their media-buying services. And these new-ish media companies are now seeing their services severely disintermediated, very likely at precisely the time when media and creative should be woven together more closely than ever before.

Many of the supporting arguments are old and familiar ones: interactivity increases the likelihood that the medium is the message; online creative isn't always about filling in a predetermined rectangle (or 30 audio seconds) of blank canvas, and so on.

There's another reason creative and media now need to be in the same building, if not inhabiting adjacent cubicles: media are everywhere, and everyone is using them to further her own agenda -- and often to thwart yours.

Take this week's Motrin Moms debacle. The backlash wasn't that big, if you think about it. A couple thousand negative tweets doesn't mean a corresponding number of moms were publicly giving the campaign a tongue-lashing. In all likelihood, the number of actual complainers is much, much smaller. The problem lies in the fact that Motrin's agency was, at first, oblivious to the complaints. The campaign's online component quickly disappeared, replaced by a public apology. But the rest? There's an outdoor element still up on the phone booth just downstairs. Every time I walk by I think "Twitter," not "Motrin."

Why isn't taking down non-digital elements part of the broader crisis-reaction media strategy?

It'll be interesting to see how -- and if -- Chrysler reacts to the Ram Challenge campaign being excoriated on BoingBoing this week. It's only the most-read blog on the Web, with a readership far exceeding "The New York Times."

Social Media Is Media

In a widely blogged statement this week, Procter & Gamble's super-smart (and super-nice) Ted McConnell argued against advertising, in the classic sense, on social media sites such as Facebook. "Who said this is media?" McConnell asked. "Media is something you can buy and sell. Media contains inventory. Media contains blank spaces. Consumers weren't trying to generate media. They were trying to talk to somebody."

I agree with the spirit, if not the substance, of his argument. Because social media is, in fact, blank space. It's just not commoditized blank space in the way media buyers, sellers, and planners have traditionally understood it. Advertising in such venues must be undertaken with caution. Listening is paramount, as is the ability to react appropriately and with great alacrity, not to mention elasticity.

Media and creative need to be reintroduced, and to find new ways of working together. There's enough disintermediation out there already. Without fully integrating all opportunities in interactive, campaigns -- and the clients who pay for them -- are at risk.

Meet Rebecca at Search Engine Strategies Chicago December 8-12 at the Chicago Hilton. The only major search marketing conference and expo in the Midwest will be packed with 60-plus sessions, multiple keynotes and Orion Strategy sessions, exhibitors, networking events, and more.


Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.

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