Anyone who has followed the fortunes of Rajar in its ongoing war with Kelvin MacKenzie would find it hard not to agree that, on one score at least, it has already lost.
Whatever the rights and wrongs in the debate over the arguments for bringing in electronic measurement, the radio body is widely perceived to have failed to argue its case anywhere near as forthrightly as the man with one of media’s most colourful phrasebooks.
The reason is that the listenermeasurement body, which is funded by the entire radio industry, has, until now, been stuck in the dark ages in the art of how to market itself to its own audience. As one senior media marketing source puts it: “The reality is that Rajar has lost the initiative.”
Last week, it emerged that Rajar has finally woken up to the fact that its reputation was being so battered by the likes of MacKenzie that it had to up its game.
The organisation has turned to former PHD Compass boss Mark Cross, whose marketing company, MC2 will carry out a major consultation for Rajar on electronic measurement – the very issue that has been in danger of tearing it apart.
What it has finally realised is the growing importance of image in an industry which is surprisingly bad at promoting itself.
Rajar is not alone in that respect. Across the range of different groups, from individual media owners to trade organisations, there are plenty of examples of set-ups that have woefully failed to give a good impression within the industry, whatever the excellence of the company’s, or body’s, work.
Rajar is among a number of organisations that are beginning to try to repair the damage suffered as a result of this collective slumber.
Having been a director of Barb during a tumultuous two years – in which it suffered even worse damage to its reputation than Rajar in its at times farcical attempts to upgrade its audience panel – Cross has been handed the job of helping to salvage Rajar’s credibility.
While dismissed as “a load of twaddle” by MacKenzie – no surprise there – the move is miles more effective than previous attempts by Rajar to win hearts and minds in the media world.
Communicating with customers
“My appointment is very much about Rajar trying to get back on the front foot,” says Cross. “The basic principle is about going back to your customers and asking them what they need.”
Cross, who has also been helping the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising come up with a major research project on media effectiveness, believes industry bodies and agencies have been bad at selling themselves.
Bodies such as Rajar and Barb, he argues, have suffered, in terms of being able to get their message across, for several reasons, including the political rivalries between their stakeholders, the fact they are manned with relatively skeleton staffing levels and the frantic pace of change in the industry they have to keep up with.
“The closer you get to home, the more myopic you become,” says Cross, who, while refusing to directly accuse his latest employers of short-sightedness, admits Rajar has been in danger of losing the focus of its message due to the distractions of its annus horribilus.
“My role will help them to think about their core focus and where they want to be in five years’,” he says.
“A lot of the industry bodies aren’t that well resourced when it comes to marketing themselves,” he adds. “Ofcom has a budget of £165m and God knows how many people.
Someone like Rajar has a fulltime staff of three.”
Sectors of the media industry cannot always blame lack of staff, however, for their poor record when it comes to selling themselves.
Rajar’s problems aside, the radio industry in general, particularly in the form of the Radio Advertising Bureau, is light years ahead of the biggest medium of all, television, which has been terrible at marketing itself to the industry. TV bosses recently employed The Ingram Partnership to get a long-overdue joint marketing initiative off the ground. The results of its research are due soon, but there remains doubt as to whether there is the combined will to form the TV equivalent of the RAB.
There has been more progress in other areas of the media industry.
Before launching its effectiveness research, which covers the whole range of media, the IPA had already done a lot to become a more campaigning force of behalf of its members, with successes such as the launch of its training qualifications for creative and media agencies.
Members’ only club
In the magazine sector, the Periodical Publishers Association upped its game at the end of last year, having previously been viewed by critics as something of a members’ only club, with the launch of its PPA marketing strategy.
And the Newspaper Marketing Agency saw bosses take their knives out of each others’ backs long enough to launch a combined marketing drive for the nationals, although the jury is still out about whether it will achieve its aims.
But Cross believes agencies have the biggest problems of all when it comes communicating their message. “If you ask most agency people, they’ll admit they spend all of their time talking to clients about how to promote their [the clients’] brands, but, when it comes to promoting their own brands, they’re absolute crap,” he says.
Because agencies, perhaps more than any other business, are people businesses, defining a company message is something that has proved beyond even the best resourced of them.
Cross says: “There have been examples of media agencies having recruited marketing people to become new business people, but, in more cases than not, it hasn’t worked.
“For agencies to define exactly what they stand for is very difficult and it’s going to get more difficult the bigger the networks become.”
On the media-owner side, some sectors have more of a proven track record in marketing themselves than others.
Simon Horne, head of PR at Virgin Radio, says radio is particularly good at it because it has had to work so hard.
“Radio’s not the primary advertising source and it’s had to work hard,” he says. “The amazing success of the RAB is a great example.
“Within a radio company our marketing deals with everything from dealing with media relations to going out and visiting the agencies to whisking 20 people off on a luxury coach to see Robbie Williams. It’s all about building our rock ‘n’roll image.”
However, not everyone is convinced that image within the industry should be so high on the agenda. Some believe that, if the media industry spends too much reflecting on its image, it will miss the real point of business, which must be to communicate with customers on the outside.
One experienced media PR guru said: “You can scream until you’re blue in the face to try to get a more fluffy corporate image within the industry you work in, but do you have to if your product is selling?” He singles out Sky, known as a company which doesn’t waste a lot of time on PR fluff, as a good example.
“Sky+ is more of an ambassador for Sky than its PR department,” he says.
“Likewise, you’re not telling me that what Associated is selling is the image of Associated Newspapers. They’re selling the Daily Mail.”
Often, those in media thought to have an image problem have the most successful products.
Tits and bums market
“We all slag off Desmond,” says the source. “But look at what Peter Hill [now Daily Express editor] did with the Star. They obviously worked out that there was a market for tits and bums and a bit of Kelvin MacKenziestyle irreverent journalism.”
On the other side of the coin, he argues, is Loaded founder, James Brown, whom, he claims, is one of the darlings of the media world: “He gets acres and acres of free publicity, but nobody buys his magazines.”
“You can be the best-liked media executive in the world but, if nobody buys your product, what’s your role in life?” Like individuals, some media companies have to work harder at their image than others and some have more catching up to do than others.
The arguments about its “product” rage on, but Rajar, for one, has obviously decided it cannot sit back and let its good work do the talking.
For companies in media unhappy with what they see when they take a look in the mirror, the image makeover is becoming more and more of a necessity.
Tips on how to get a better image in the media industry
- Employ marketing teams, whether external or internal, who understand what you do and are passionate about it – or at least able to convince others they are.
- Never let attacks from rivals go unanswered, even if it means a bit of silent knife-work behind the scenes. The most successful companies’ marketing and PR departments tend to behave a bit like the Israeli secret police.
- Remember that it doesn't matter which restaurant you take them too, that client or agency head is likely to be far more impressed with your product than the prawn starter.
- Don't oversell ideas that haven't either proved their effectiveness or been well and truly thought out.
- Under-delivering on promises is a total no-no.
- Buy a national newspaper?