New partnerships are triumphing over adversarial approach

Increasingly, there seems to be a split between media owners who are locked into the traditional trading-based, adversarial relationships with agencies and clients, and those who are open to a partnership-based approach.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom
Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom

There is plenty of evidence for this new trend - and the different attitudes are linked to how closely media owners have integrated their commercial and editorial teams.

The Larry Sanders Show - aired in the 1990s but still fresh today - is one of the best TV programmes about the media industry of all time. The sitcom launched with an episode that focused on what happens if editorial talent is forced to become commercial.

In the episode, the network chiefs insist chat show host Sanders does a commercial within his show. Sanders ends up mocking the product - the Garden Weasel - and refuses to stick to the script. After a hugely entertaining showdown with management, Sanders wins and is asked never to stoop to such base commercialism again.

Until recently, this ivory tower approach was the only way to do business. Creative types focused on the product; commercial types flogged ad space. And if the two groups met up, the red carpets were rolled out for the former by the latter.

But change is afoot. The gulf that previously existed between talent and sales has been bridged, and it has been bridged in a win/win way.

Several things have contributed to this new approach. First, there is now a great deal of mutual respect. Editorial teams' commercial nous has improved and they are helping to sell content based on their deep understanding of the audiences they create for.

Media agencies and sales teams have a healthy amount of respect for that expertise. But, equally, editorial teams are less fearful that sales teams and clients want them to prostitute their creativity.

No one in their right mind is interested in producing editorial content that parrots a press release and alienates the consumer. But content that fascinates the consumer and gratifies their interest in compelling brands can boost audiences all round.

When ShortList featured the making of the Terminator movie, it fed its readers' curiosity about the film. Likewise, when bookmaker Paddy Power appears on TalkSport in person, listeners receive top tips from the man who really knows.

If branded content is done well, there is no betrayal of trust and all parties can benefit. However, editorial and commercial closeness is still regarded as taboo in some quarters.

It will be interesting to see if the old guard will continue to hold out as the new partnerships triumph over the old adversarial ways of doing business. 

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