Interactive Advertising Growth: Careful What You Wish For

For years, I’ve been evangelizing the virtues of the Internet and its ability to move brand health metrics, engage consumers, drive sales, collect leads, build databases, and so on. Finally the marketing community has caught on, and the industry is on the brink of becoming a victim of its own success.

Nearly overnight, most marketers have realized the Internet is a mass-media channel and should be part of their overall plans. Even those who were merely dabbling in the medium have shifted budgets to it. This will be even more pronounced in 2006. Now that we’re getting what we asked for, we face a whole new set of challenges. Let’s take a look at some of these challenges and offer a few suggestions for the future.

Congratulations on Your New Budget; the Plans Are Due Next Week

Historically, we’ve told clients it takes three to four weeks to develop a detailed media recommendation for a typical campaign. Today, budgets seem to spring from nowhere and require detailed plan recommendations in a fraction of the time. Thank goodness for some of the tools we’ve developed with companies such as DoubleClick and Atlas to make sending RFPs (define) and reviewing proposals easier and more automated.

Undoubtedly, though, we continue to put more responsibility on our potential media partners to first win the business, then execute the plan. These demands have forced Web publishers to seriously rethink the size and composition of their sales and customer service teams, which in turn will likely be passed on in increased media costs.

Additionally, with such time pressures, we have fewer opportunities to develop custom programs. With plans needed in a few days’ time, we must recommend a variety of Interactive Advertising Bureau-standard ad placements in strategically sound places.

I’ve Found a Job Opportunity That’s Too Good to Pass Up

Without question, the interactive ad industry has a personnel crisis. The more people I speak to on this subject, the more I realize we must do some radical things as an industry to fix the problem and ensure we’ll have people to do the work in the short term. Both the agency and sales side of the house are experiencing the problem, but it feels more dire on the agency side.

The demand for qualified interactive agency people is so high, salaries are swelling well beyond reasonable limits. This will have to normalize for us to run profitable businesses that allow us to invest in our people while delivering service excellence to clients. The issue goes beyond salary, permeating the growth expectations of employees, their potential bonus structure, their vacation allotment, and a host of other perks.

There’s no simple solution. Clearly, people left the industry when the Internet bubble burst, and not enough have been entering the industry since then. We must educate the college population and those graduating college about the benefits of an interactive marketing career. Interactive industry groups across the country have been doing this recently with job fairs and other educational efforts. These efforts must continue, if not be stepped up, as business doesn’t show any sign of slowing down in the near future. Demand for qualified people will remain strong for years to come.

Some may argue these challenges are good problems to have. They’re certainly better than the industry languishing and fighting for budgets. However, these issues are real and jeopardize our continued growth. Let’s hope for more moderation as time goes by, which will allow us to be more proactive and build rock solid businesses. Then, we’ll have steady and healthy growth.

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