Crossing Over: Buying Multiplatform Media

Disney’s doing it. NBC’s doing it. CBS’s doing it.

No, it’s not that. Well, not exactly. There is some “gettin’ together and gettin’ it on” going on, but the kind we’re talking about here is convergence, specifically media content convergence.

Given all the mergers and acquisitions activity in the marketplace, with new and old media stalwarts hopping into bed together, conversation about town is turning to what media folk can do to benefit from these new content convergence love-fests until actual digital convergence arrives.

People are now considering cross-platform media buying as the first-born offspring of these unions. How advertisers can benefit from all these media M&As will be in the form of seamless intermedia communication packages that provide advertisers with the kind of surround sound marketing opportunities essential for a company in the modern marketplace to discuss its value proposition with the public.

The problem is that these cross-platform packages are still gestating. Or worse yet, the newlyweds simply do not understand the birds and the bees at all.

The reason for this is that most of these media companies do not have knowledge integration within their sales force. True integration will require both interactive and offline media sales forces to be up to speed on each other’s side of the business, or at least have a working knowledge of one another’s particular medium. Apparently, this has not yet taken place.

One cannot blame only those media companies that have gone through mergers, however, for being a bit ignorant of how to package cross-platform media to the benefit of advertisers. Even offline media companies that developed online properties themselves (rather than spending their way online by buying a pre-existing online property) have a hard time putting together or even understanding a cross-platform package.

Last year I had a client in the national cable upfront market. With each buy we closed, I asked about online value-add or cross-platform merchandising. Each time I was told that the online was treated like a separate company from the broadcast, and that if I wanted to arrange a regular buy on the online property, I would have to talk to someone else.

Usually the dissonance could be attributed to the broadcast side of the business’s treating the online side like some redheaded stepchild. Clearly those folks were not looking very closely at the writing on the wall spelling out online’s quick rise to prominence in the overall marketing mix. Particularly to a dot-com pumping millions of dollars into offline for the first time.

None of this is to say there aren’t some out there that are starting to get it. A couple months ago, NBCi was calling me to see if they could come in with someone from the NBC team to pitch an online/offline integrated upfront package. Though I had no clients at the time for which this was going to be relevant (most of my clients buy national cable), I thought it a surprising sign of innovation coming from a company that makes everything from light bulbs to guided missiles.

ABC was also in the agency recently with representatives of both its online and offline sales forces. Once again, I was impressed that the old media papas were making an effort to reach out to agencies and advertisers to begin at least discussing options for cross-platform media buying. Another forward thinker has been the Discovery Channel/Discovery Online Network.

Surprisingly absent from cross-platform package discussions are AOL/Time Warner and CBS. At least, I haven’t heard from them anyway (though that’s no surprise in the case of AOL, as it never talks to agencies). If I called up Time Magazine with $5 to $10 million to spend during the year from a client, would I get any accommodation on AOL? Unlikely. At best, I’d get an up-sell pitch from AOL to cough up another $5 to $10 million to spend JUST on AOL.

All the onus can’t be placed on the media conglomerates, however. Agencies aren’t necessarily playing the role of midwife to help deliver these cross-platform bundles of joy. Agencies also need to do their part to ensure that those staffing an account understand that online is one more medium in the mix and not an entirely separate discipline.

So, if you have a client for which an online/offline comprehensive communication package makes sense, what do you do to negotiate a package?

Well, as this is virgin territory for most buyers, sellers, and advertisers, the first thing to do is ask about what components of their properties can be put together. From this, you can find out how integrated the online/offline sides of the business are.

Chances are your contact will not have any experience in putting together anything like this. What that means is that there is no barrier to what you can ask for (this isn’t the same as saying there is no barrier to what you can GET). Discuss with the advertiser what online and offline assets would be best for them to reach the most appropriate audience. The selection can become the basis for a proposal.

Evaluating a package once it is on the table is done just like it would be for any other media proposal evaluation. If it’s broadcast, what are the CPMs against the target given the unit cost or cost per point proposed? Same for print. For the online, what is the projected cost per acquisition or cost per visitor? Projecting the metrics for the offline portion would be helpful, too. This will require some familiarity with traditional direct response metrics, but that can be found in books. Or from colleagues in the business who might have had some experience with offline advertising.

There really isn’t too much mystery in putting together and negotiating these kinds of packages. All that is required is a little patience and a willingness to risk doing something brand new to make the advertiser stand out from the others.

But do it soon. The nursery is going to get crowded fast, and soon one screaming baby is going to look just like another.

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