Information is power

Media agencies are going through seismic change, examining traditional practices and adopting new structures which broaden their role well beyond planning and buying, reports Chris Taylor

Information is clearly power, but in these days, where proof of return on investment is a central theme in any marketing argument, information on its own can be misleading and, without analysis, can be next to meaningless.

But data gathering and analysis isn't the sole remit of media agencies. And as media continues to fragment apace and developing relationships with key consumers becomes vital, even established mediums are having to think carefully about how they maintain their profile and prove their worth to agencies and clients alike.

From studies such as VIPer (a consortium research programme involving Condé Nast, Channel 4, Times Newspapers, Classic FM and MPG analyzing the behaviour of ABs) to proprietary research from individual media owners, the proof-of-effectiveness argument is on-going.

"Obviously, some TV shows can offer millions of viewers, but there's always the fact that a large proportion won't be your target audience," says Jo Elvin, launch editor of Glamour, Condé Nast's success story of 2001. "With magazines you always know you're hitting the right consumer to suit your needs. Advertisers know that magazines have strong relationships and bonds with their readers. Most magazines can tell you in elaborate detail about the lifestyle and spending habits of their readers - right down to the details of their emotional make up."

But optimizing the potential of your media brand, and of your media platform, is more important now than ever before. Platform proliferation and increasing consumer sophistication mean that plain old spot ads or display pages are less likely to cut it with advertisers looking not just to get messages dangling before the right consumers, but to get those consumers to react. The launch of Glamour was a case in point - its American A5 size proved to be a major USP, a brand message and a talking point all in one.

Time Magazine's European marketing director James Griffiths has a 12-year background in agencies. "The marketplace has moved towards the desire for more creative media solutions, be they in events, sponsorship, or distribution. These days, you can only bank on selling so much straight from the page and, typically, you have to be looking for more stand out and more impact because clients are more sophisticated and so are their consumers."

Capital Radio Advertising strategic marketing director Nikki Mendonca says Capital has increased investment in both consumer and brand research. "We need to be able to differentiate our consumers' listening behaviour and needs from other stations in order to sell them effectively. Our clients want a 3D description of who our audiences are, why they listen, when they listen and how they listen. We recently launched our Human Capital listener research, which outlined all of the above for 95.8 Capital FM and agencies thought it was excellent. Our research into modal targeting was also recently launched and that provided an insight into how people are in different 'modes' during the day and, hence, an advertiser can increase the effectiveness of their advertising if they specifically target at the right time of day. We called this the 'moment when they might' and we are using this research in our radio planning."

And media-owner research has been key in making clients and agencies take non-TV media more seriously than they previously had.

"I can think of several instances of clients who have switched money away from TV in the past 12 months to use commercial radio," says Chrysalis commercial director Don Thomson.

"The Radio Multiplier study conducted by Millward Brown has made a lot of non-users of the medium sit up and take a serious look at the medium. The challenge for us as an industry is to make sure they stay with us."

That challenge extends to all media platforms and the brands that proliferate them.

Virgin Student, under media and marketing director James Layfield, offers marketing solutions for brands looking to speak to students directly.

"When we started we found that, because we were talking to a niche audience, when we approached traditional players they didn't have the solutions we needed, so we needed to develop our own," he says. Thus, the company established its own marketing network, as well as Virginstudent.com and has been involved with the production of student magazine Dave, given away recently with The Guardian. For Layfield, the point wasn't just about getting awareness with the oh-so-difficult audience, but to get them to connect and interact on their own terms.

Paul Curtis, managing director of Viacom Brand Solutions, which looks after sales for the MTV portfolio of brands, says media owners have a fundamental need to understand how their brands work, to take best advantage of a media landscape which is increasingly media neutral from the consumers' perspective.

"There has been a huge shift in the brand/consumer relationship," he says. "Media owners are no longer peripheral to brands. Previously media owners were seen as putting content out and that's it. But digital media has forced us all to look at communications far more broadly."

This means that media owners themselves have to move towards a form of media neutrality and to be more creative to thrive. They have seen changing patterns of consumption and realized consumers have to be reached with relevant content through relevant channels at the right time.

This is what Curtis calls developing touchpoints - which encompass at all the opportunities to reach and interact with audiences - from live club events to sampling and promotions.

Account director of Emap Advertising's Cross Solutions division, Mark Field, is tasked with creating tailored solutions to meet client briefs across Emap brands. He encapsulates the positioning increasing numbers of media owners are aiming for.

"Emap has a fairly unique position," he says. "We have all these brands - in print, on TV, on radio and online - and they make for a pretty cohesive offering. Our knowledge and expertise is in getting to customers and as media fragments we want to be able to reach them just as well whatever the platform."

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