The media world, buzzwords and catchphrases come and go with the seasons, but there is one mantra these days which media owners in particular appear to have carved into stone tablets - and rightly so. "Joined-up thinking." is of course, the phrase of the moment. But far from a David Brentesque piece of nonsense, this is popular for a reason.
"What we are very good at is creating great content," explains Chris Pelekanou, deputy ad director at Guardian Newspapers, who knows the score. "And we have to be prepared to offer that content in whatever form consumers want to see it."
There must have been a final moment in the recent past when single-platform media ownership still seemed like the safe option - even the shareholder-friendly option. These days, media owners unanimously appreciate that they must follow the capricious public from platform to platform - not to find growth, but merely to safeguard existing revenues. Publishing companies are now broadcasters and broadcasters are new media innovators, and this landscape of consolidated media fragments is all tied together - so the theory goes - with joined-up media thinking.
With the possible exception of ITV, which is rumoured in some quarters to be looking at splitting its sales teams effectively into "old" and "new" revenue streams, all the structural movements in the marketplace are towards an increasingly efficient multi-platform sell - from Emap's inauguration of Emap2 (Media Week, page 18, 21 February) - to the rebranding of The Telegraph's cross-media Create team.
Where early criticism of multi-platform sales focused on the suggestion that these were simply single-platform solutions welded together, the ongoing development of entities such as the IPC/GCap/Viacom venture RSVP and Emap Advertising's 80-strong creative team, at least suggest an increasing degree of strategic integration at the cutting edge.
"Three years ago, you just repeated a campaign across different media," says IPC Ignite! business development director David Fisher, a stalwart of the RSVP partnership. "But what we have learned is that it is not about that; it is about wholeness and harmony."
Clients are certainly not prepared to let the fragmented nature of today's media market dilute their brands' impact and, more than that, they are coming to expect multi-platform campaigns to amount to more than the sum of their parts. Can media owners deliver the joined-up thinking their clients demand? An ever-greater number of them seem to think they can, though not necessarily in the same way.
When the conversation turns to cross-media, Emap's name is never far behind, so it is significant that the media group has turned its back on the phrase with the launch of its new Emap2 division, bringing its creative teams together into a single unit.
"In the past, we were very focused on taking a cross-media approach to campaigns, which I feel was the tail wagging the dog, to some degree," says Carrie Barker, director of magazines and Emap2. "Now we are putting the idea at the forefront of our approach. Only when we have the right idea will we decide which brand is most appropriate, and then finally we will decide which platforms to run it across."
The new strategy neatly defuses the hype surrounding cross-media planning - a hype partly inflated, it must be said, by Emap itself, which launched the first cross-media sales team in April 2000, spanning magazines, radio, TV, mobile, online and events.
Certainly the advent of Emap2 and its media-neutral philosophy does appear to give Emap Advertising new leverage in the ongoing battle with the RSVP partnership. "Our new approach is absolutely driven by idea-first and it will be interesting to see how RSVP would do that," says Barker.
The media owner's decision to fight shy of the cross-media term implies the practice of multi-platform planning has acquired a degree of maturity which puts it beyond such labels. It also allows for briefs still best served by single-platform solutions and deflects suggestions that media cross-sell is of greater benefit to the media owner than to the client.
Kerrang! is arguably Emap's most three-dimensional brand, straddling all six of the possible touchpoints and impacting a reputed audience of 2.35 million a week. A new campaign also seems to vindicate the multi-platform approach. An unsigned band hunt with Snickers united the snack brand with Kerrang! across all its platforms, including its involvement as the media partner of the Download Festival at Donington Park last June, generating 2,500 band entries and 10,000 votes.
But what appears to be most significant are the numbers just in, suggesting those who consumed Kerrang! on three platforms were more favourable towards the Snickers brand than those who consumed Kerrang! through a single medium.
Among those who engaged with Kerrang! on multiple platforms, 69% agreed that Snickers supported things they were "into", compared to 50% of single-platform consumers; meanwhile, 51% of the former group thought Snickers was a cool brand, compared to 36% of the latter group.
"That is proof that if people are seeing and hearing a campaign across more platforms, it is more successful," says Barker.
The grouping of IPC, GCap and Viacom under the umbrella of the cross-media RSVP partnership is a different approach to media integration to Emap2's, though both sides make similar claims. For instance, in common with Emap2, one of RSVP's stated points of difference is that it doesn't shoehorn campaigns into all available media. While Emap2's logic is based on the breadth of its own palette of brands and platforms, RSVP's claim to neutrality is that its choice of media is greater still. As IPC Ignite! business development director David Fisher puts it: "We are three media owners, so we have an awful lot more media choice."
An easy assumption is that, in an alliance between a publisher, radio group and broadcast/outdoor giant, there will be added pressure to run campaigns across multiple platforms, even if cross-media solutions are most appropriate to the clients' needs.
Fisher insists not. "We don't expect anybody to use all three partners," he says. "Obviously we would argue that it works better when you do, because of the media multiplier effect, but we have done lots of campaigns where GCap has brought in a cross-media brief and GCap and Viacom have ended up not running any of it."
Part of the partnership's strength is that all three companies bring their own perspectives. "It allows us to join up editorial and programming thinking that wouldn't necessarily have been joined-up before," adds Fisher.
He cites a T-Mobile ringtone campaign as evidence of a project which pushed the boundaries for all concerned. "We ran a campaign of tagging across press, so if a band was reviewed in the NME, we would run a tag telling people they could download a ringtone via T-Mobile. That was replicated on stations like Xfm, so we allowed T-Mobile to intrude on editorial and programming in a way that had never been done before - IPC would never have allowed it to happen and GCap would never have allowed it to happen, but the campaign becomes so big and so exciting that everybody wants to be involved."
One view Emap2 and RSVP share is of a change in the definition of a media owner's role. "What we have seen is that the best, most forward-looking media owners do work like media planning departments of agencies now, but they do it with absolute, intrinsic knowledge of how their media works and how to get the best out of it," says Fisher.
Certainly, RSVP has impressed in the agency world. "We have a policy where we will get all the media owners together and brief them collectively," says Carat managing director Neil Jones. "We just had a brief for Smirnoff and RSVP came back to us with the best response by miles. But I think media owners in general are still finding their way (with cross-media planning) and it is an area that is going to develop dramatically in the next 12 to 18 months."
In its own way, Channel 4 has done as much to future-proof its offering as the BBC, but the achievements of our junior public broadcaster have been all the more impressive for its relatively meagre resources.
C4 is acutely aware of its commercial challenges moving forward, and now that it has more than 400 commercial rivals where once it had one, its moves into digital with More4, E4 and FilmFour already look like lessons in intelligent, prudent brand extension.
Guided by chief executive Andy Duncan's core strategic goals - to continue investing in the core C4 brand, to grow the multi-channel portfolio and to build and develop the broadcaster's new media presence - C4 has followed viewers without chasing them and responded to the demand for specialist programming without forgetting what it does best.
"People can be incredibly specific about what they want now and if they are demanding niche programming, you have just got to create that," says Cate Murden, associate director at OMD Fuse, the broadcaster's agency. "The beauty of C4, as much as it pains me to admit it, because they're not cheap, is that they have done it incredibly well and hats off to them for that."
But C4 aims for more than survival and its online and mobile activities are carrying it towards future broadcasting battlegrounds such as video-on-demand.
"C4 has always been ambitious and innovative in new media investment, even from the early dotcom days," says its new business director Rod Henwood. "We caught a cold then, along with everybody else, but we stand true to the basic principles that we should seek to establish a significant presence in emerging platforms."
The policy is not simply one of safeguarding existing market share, he adds. "We think there is a defensive requirement to be on these new platforms in order to protect C4's core audience, because obviously new platforms will dilute linear viewing in some way. But because of the stage of evolution of the market, there is an opportunity to grab disproportionate share and scale."
C4 marketing director Polly Cochrane adds that a strong, defined brand is the greatest asset a media owner can have as it navigates the treacherous waters of cross-platform expansion.
"There is a very simple answer to the problem - although it is quite hard to achieve - which is about staying true to your values," says Cochrane. "Because of our PSB remit, our values are effectively written in stone, but in essence things like innovation are part of what we are here to do. There is never any huge argument internally about what the values should be."
Provided the organisation steers by its proven brand, the commercial concerns that inevitably arise from a brand extension exercise are far easier to address. As Cochrane puts it: "Which advertiser doesn't want people with an appetite for change and innovation and getting things first?"
OMD Fuse's Murden negotiated the high-profile 118 118 sponsorship deal which covers C4, More4 and E4, and says the real strength of C4's multi-channel output is in the consistent quality of its audiences.
"Ultimately, even if you break it down to 16 to 34-year-olds on E4 and 25 to 44-year-olds on More4, they are still top-end ABC1 consumers and it is that demograph that is so hard to attain," she says. "It just gives you more opportunities to hit that audience."
Many in agencyland believe newspapers lag some way behind media owners from other sectors in exploring non-core platforms. As print's popularity gradually slides, so the thinking goes, the dailies expect their websites to step up to bat in the hope that online can make up the ground.
"Both newspapers and magazines do now have significant online properties, but we are yet to see evidence of truly integrated solutions," says Zenith Optimedia group press director Nik Vyas. "We do see multi-platform responses, but they still appear to be bolted together, rather than flowing seamlessly into one another. It is possibly a function of operating semi-autonomous business areas, but they still have a long way to go before demonstrating genuine joined-up media thinking which unlocks the holistic potential of all their assets."
The Guardian's Chris Pelekanou begs to differ. He suggests the main failing of newspaper groups such as his may have been in failing to trumpet their successes loudly enough. "I strongly believe papers do a great deal of joined-up thinking," he says.
"The way we think about our readers is actually very advanced, but maybe what we haven't done is PR that well enough. We have very rich content and our readers want to engage with us and a very clever idea will engage the advertiser with the reader at exactly the right moment."
With the obvious exception of Sky and News International, no stand-alone newspaper group has the range of multi-platform interests of an Emap or an RSVP. But according to Pelekanou, the number of individual paper products offered by Guardian Newspapers between its sections and its supplements stands at around 26, in addition to Guardian Unlimited, which now plays a role in most Guardian and Observer clients' campaigns. Increasingly, he says, the role of the sales team is as a guide to the complex world of the multi-section newspaper.
"For advertisers and agencies to try to lock down how to use each of those sections is hard," he says. "It is difficult for agencies to plan at the micro-level, so we have to make sure we give them the right information."
Guardian Plus is Guardian Newspapers' in-house team for integrated projects, operating on a similar basis to the Telegraph Group's Telegraph Create team, which recently rebranded, having spent almost 10 years as Commercial Development.
Telegraph Create director Sarah Newton says clients such as Bank of Scotland will testify to the Telegraph's ability to provide multi-platform solutions. "The bank has been our partner across golf for three, maybe four years now, and that has worked across sponsorship of editorial, online, huge TV campaigns - it is a partnership on lots of different levels."
The challenge, according to Newton, is in hatching ideas which satisfy all the requirements of client and media owner. "You have got sales, editorial and marketing, and the best ideas tick all three boxes. Just because something is a great commercial idea doesn't necessarily make it a great marketing idea or a great editorial concept."
MEDIA OWNERS MUST FACE CONVERGENCE CHALLENGE
As a media owner, it is never easy to accept that the media you own don't do the job they once did. Ongoing fragmentation and the hunt for meaningful impressions have effectively dictated the terms by which the media must operate.
As Nick Bampton, managing director of Viacom Brand Solutions - one part of RSVP - puts it: "The world we are moving into is one of media convergence. It is not going to be about internet, magazines, radio - those days of competing by media are over from an advertising perspective.
"Instead, it is going to be about communication. There is a big cake out there and the media owners which collaborate the best are going to get the bigger share and the greater reward," he says. If the multi-platform stars which leap easily to mind are still the familiar names, it is understandable.
The key difference between joined-up thinking and multi-platform media ownership is the seamless integration implied by the former term and, as any client will appreciate, bolt-on solutions can often add more to the cost of a campaign than they do to its value.
As enthusiastically as converts such as Emap and RSVP tout their integrated solutions, those platforms did not weave themselves together overnight, and the fact that much of the media's work is still to do is an indication of the complexity of the task at hand.