The medium is the message

The role of industry trade bodies is more critical than ever in a recession, when proving the worth of a medium to clients is paramount. So how hard have the representative organisations for each medium been working on behalf of their members over 2009 relative to their budgets? Suzy Bashford assesses the merits of their performance

The medium is the message
The medium is the message

A spate of high-profile stories in the press, combined with tough economic conditions, have catapulted the media industry's trade bodies into the spotlight.

The announcements that UTV, UKRD and The Local Radio Company have resigned from the RadioCentre, and the Periodical Publishers Association has lost its chief executive Jonathan Shephard have prompted members to ponder the question: are trade bodies doing enough to merit their expensive fees?

The role of a trade body assumes even greater importance in a recession, when proving the worth of a medium to clients is paramount. But the majority of members wonder whether there are too many trade bodies in media and if consolidation would create cost savings, as well as a stronger, united voice.

Talking about agency-facing bodies such as the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and the Advertising Association, Amanda MacKenzie, group marketing director at Aviva, says: "There are too many trade bodies and I'm not really sure what the differences between them are. If they were charities around the same broad cause, you would merge them. If they were FTSE 250 companies, you would merge them and create economies of scale."

With reference to the numerous trade bodies covering the magazine and online publishing sectors, Stevie Spring, chief executive of Future Publishing, adds: "I'd love to have just one holding group with shared back office functions, and then niche sub-groups. At the moment, I wonder whether there is too much duplication."

The other overriding concern among industry practitioners is that trade bodies are not commercial enough. Ian Millner, chief executive of integrated marketing agency Iris Worldwide, picks up on this point in relation to the IPA, but many others voice the same criticism of the other trade bodies.

Millner says: "The IPA must become as commercially astute, flexible and open to change as its members. If it doesn't, the dramatic and irreversible economic changes the industry is experiencing will render it impotent, expensive and a friendly, but peripheral, part of the industry."

NatMags chief executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine, who chaired the equivalent organisation to the PPA in France, says: "Every member should feel the contribution of trade bodies to their business."
He adds that, since he took up his post in April, he has noticed that the UK media trade bodies need to have "a more commercial approach in helping members generate revenue".


Sector spokesperson
Tess Alps
Chief executive

Thinkbox, the marketing body for commercial TV, is 2009's star pupil. A smooth operator, Thinkbox has benefited from stable management by Tess Alps, who Dawn Airey, chief executive of Five, describes as "a real advocate of the medium, constantly championing its cause".

Highlights over the past year include the launch of the body's first TV ad, which ran across all major commercial channels, its "Me-TV" research looking at the relationship between broadcast and online TV, its "TV Response" research on direct response TV and its continued involvement with a host of industry awards.

 In addition, the number of events Thinkbox staged in 2009 shot up 25% compared to 2008, including its first paid-for event, The New Rules of Response, which sold out in days.

The body also continues to work hard behind the scenes, pledging to present to an advertiser or an agency or to speak at an event every other working day of the year. In this way, its approachability is held up by many as one of its core strengths.

Leila Gould, head of TV at Total Media, says: "Thinkbox is very accessible. It has presented its findings to us on several occasions and it is always keen to hear our feedback on how it can improve its research and seminars."

Other key strengths include proficiency in the use of new technology to promote its message - including a revamped website, e-newsletters and blogs.

However, Thinkbox is not afraid to admit it needs to improve. For instance, it recognises some people still believe the internet is a threat to TV, as opposed to a huge opportunity for TV's expansion, and knows it must try harder on this front.

Alps refuses to be complacent. She says: "It's hard to be satisfied with anything we have achieved in the teeth of such a vicious economic climate. We are making progress with restoring broadcast TV's reputation and successfully explaining TV's expansion through new technologies. But, frankly, we have barely scratched the surface."

Despite this self-deprecating attitude, Thinkbox has attracted glowing reviews from the industry. Merry Baskin, planning consultant at Baskin Shark, says Thinkbox is "head and shoulders above other bodies in profile, passion and effectiveness", while Andy Barnes, sales director at Channel 4, comments: "If you had told me a few years ago that Thinkbox would achieve what it has today, I wouldn't have believed you."

Airey adds: "Thinkbox does an outstanding job in keeping TV at the forefront of advertisers' minds. Its events are well-staged and relevant, and its website is a fantastic industry resource that provides agencies and advertisers with content to enhance their own presentations.
"The messages Thinkbox delivers are getting through to agencies and advertisers more and more every year. As we saw with this year's TV campaign, it continues to initiate new ways to show how TV drives value to businesses' bottom line."

Grade: A


Outdoor Advertising Association

Sector spokesperson
Alan James
Chief executive

One senior media executive describes the OAA as "pretty invisible", suggesting it must try harder to raise its profile and that of its medium. But the OAA is "not into puffery and spin", according to operations director Bill Wilson and it would rather just "get on with the job". It should be noted that the OAA's remit is not as marketing-led as the other trade bodies and that much of its work is behind the scenes on, for instance, health and safety and legislative issues.

Nevertheless, there are signs the OAA has taken this criticism on board with the appointment of ad agency Campbell Lace Beta. Alan James, chief executive of the OAA, says he is at a "critical stage" in the decision-making process and hints that an outdoor campaign promoting the medium will hit the streets "sooner rather than later".

The OAA is smaller than the other trade bodies, with only three staff: a chief executive, operations director and administrative assistant. Despite this, it has achieved some impressive landmarks over the last year, such as organising a conference in London and coordinating a digital seminar. It also commissioned research with OMD Brand Science and Mindshare ATG looking at the role of outdoor within econometric models.

Peter Charlton, national sales director at CBS Outdoor, describes the work as "probably the most significant body of research undertaken this year by any media trade group". The research was picked up by the national press.

Members' views of the OAA are mixed. One outdoor industry figure says the body does "great coordinating work, but it doesn't do enough proactively, which isn't the case with the Newspaper Marketing Agency and Thinkbox".

Steve Cox, Titan marketing director, says: "The OAA has had some great successes, but there is still plenty of work to be done and it would be good to see it work with media owners to use outdoor formats to promote the medium."

Susannah Burbidge, sales and marketing director at Ticketmedia, adds: "We'd like to see a broader focus on a wider range of outdoor advertising and we feel we would benefit from more attention being given to the smaller independent companies."

Grade: B-


Radio Advertising Bureau

Sector spokesperson

Simon Redican

Managing director

The Radio Advertising Bureau, which has a marketing budget of £250,000 per year, has delivered against its objectives since 1992. But while it used to benefit from being the pioneer trade marketing body, it is now perceived as slightly long in the tooth.

Several members applaud the RAB for its valiant efforts, but feel its image needs to be sexed up a bit. Clive Dickens, chief operating officer at Absolute Radio, works closely with the RAB and together they have identified three areas for improvement.

These are: continuing to champion creativity, researching the role radio plays when people are online, and looking at accountability issues and whether there is too much emphasis on RAJAR.

He says: "I concede the RAB is no longer the zeitgeist trade body, but focusing on these three improvements should enable it to get some of its mojo back. It is not the new story like the IAB, and it has suffered a bit by being around for so long."

The RAB has been hit by negative press in recent weeks, as UTV Media, UKRD and The Local Radio Company all pulled out of RadioCentre, the umbrella organisation that houses the RAB. Scott Taunton, managing director of UTV, is "unconvinced that the RadioCentre's policies continue to represent the wider radio industry".

However, highlights over 2009 include the RadioGauge initiative, which analyses the effectiveness of radio. It has delivered revenue of £40m to commercial radio by increasing ad spend from the 87 advertisers that have had campaigns measured.

Many members believe the lack of creativity in radio advertising is still putting brands off using the medium, but the RAB has been working hard to address the issue. It organised an awards ceremony to mark the best of radio advertising, and as part of the event it launched a £1m creative challenge, which gave £1m of radio airtime to the best new radio advertiser and best existing radio advertiser.

In February, the RAB ran its own radio campaign to promote the medium, using comedian David Schneider to promote the benefits of using radio in a downturn.

Simon Redican, RAB managing director, expects the "economic landscape to continue to be a challenge", but hopes to start January 2010 with a bang, thanks to the launch of the RAB's next piece of research.

Grade: B



Newspaper Marketing Agency

Sector spokesperson
Maureen Duffy

Chief executive

The national press has experienced an annus horribilis in 2009, but the Newspaper Marketing Agency hit back with a campaign to challenge the view that newspaper ad revenue is in irreversible decline.

Six executions ran across the agency's member national press titles, telling success stories of newspaper campaigns with good return on investment. The campaign used striking images and straplines such as "Expose yourself to 23 million people tomorrow."

Meanwhile, the Newspaper Society is more than a pure marketing machine for regional newspapers, since a core part of its remit is lobbying. On this front, it has chalked up considerable achievements: the rejection of BBC local video proposals by the BBC Trust, which would have led to local paper job cuts, and the inclusion of many recommendations in the Government's Digital Britain report.

The trade body for local press is quick to point out that its marketing budget is far smaller than its national counterpart's, at just £1m, but it still managed to launch its Local Newspaper Week with endorsement from celebrities including the Queen, David Cameron and Piers Morgan.

Both bodies have tried to help members survive the recession. The Newspaper Society commissioned research to show the power of local media in the downturn and developed a multimedia audience measurement system in partnership with ABCe and the IPA.

The NMA has admitted that the downturn has affected its capacity for research and chief executive Maureen Duffy hopes this capability will pick up again as the market recovers. In the meantime, the body launched "clinics" to help newspapers' sales and client teams at a specific category level.

However, these efforts are not enough for some executives: Mike Anderson, founder of consultancy Frank Business, says both bodies must try harder. He explains: "All newspaper bodies have fallen short on reacting to economic conditions and being able to present why our medium is something to still invest in."

On the NS in particular, he adds: "It has done some robust research, but it's all a bit worthy and there isn't enough pizzazz." Anderson echoes other members reluctant to comment on the record when he says: "Both trade bodies could be much closer to the sales process. They give their big research books to clients, but these tomes are rarely seen again, or even referred to in presentations."

Grade: B



Periodical Publishers Association

Sector spokesperson
Recruiting a new chief executive

The past 12 months have not been kind to the Periodical Publishers Association, the trade body representing consumer magazines.

After spending most of the year making structural changes instigated by new chief executive Jonathan Shephard, the PPA reacted to criticism of the changes by deciding that the PPA's next phase of development should be conducted under a new chief executive. Shephard left in September after less than 18 months in the job. Sarah Tunstall stepped into his shoes, but she too has decided to move on, and will leave by the end of the year.

As a result, the PPA's focus over the past year has been too internal and its attention has been distracted from the job at hand. Nevertheless, according to its chairman Peter Phippen, it is still an essential membership for all magazine companies.

On the bright side, there are signs the body has much potential. For example, despite the economic climate, the PPA successfully hosted the FIPP World Magazine Congress in May, attracting 900 delegates from 57 countries.

It also won a long-running battle with the Office of Fair Trading to prevent the magazine distribution system being referred to the Competition Commission and it developed a calculator that allows publishers to calculate the carbon footprint of their magazines.

The PPA has worked hard to harness new technology over the past six months - such as blogs, forums and wikis - causing web traffic to jump more than 20%.

But for some, these achievements are too little, too late - one influential media figure describes the PPA as out of date, out of touch and out of time. The pressure is on for the PPA to prove its worth in 2010, and it would do well to heed the advice of NatMags' chief executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine.

He says: The PPA should accelerate in terms of being the voice of the industry and it should push publishers to take advertising market share in tough circumstances. We must put things on the table that are important for the industry.
Meanwhile, customer magazine trade body the APA, which becomes legally independent of the PPA on 1 January 2010, is well-regarded by its membership. Led by chief operating officer Julia Hutchison, its numbers increased this year, despite the recession.

Ellen Brush, managing director at Axon Publishing, says: The APA is excellent at promoting our industry and working to drive awareness.

Tilly Boulter, chief executive of Think Publishing, adds: The APA is a worthwhile membership organisation where each member's opinion counts. It is proactive, go-getting and punches above its weight.

Grade: C-



Internet Advertising Bureau

Sector spokesperson
Guy Phillipson
Chief executive

If trade bodies were judged on PR prowess, the IAB would be awarded an A+. Its benchmark studies showing the acceleration of online spend never fail to generate headlines in the media, much to the annoyance of the other trade bodies.

But there is substance behind the spin. Over the past year, the IAB launched best-practice principles on behavioural advertising with the help of Google and Yahoo, measured mobile advertising spend for the first time, ran a study into the effectiveness of mobile display advertising with KitKat, and unveiled a Talent Taskforce to bridge the gap between higher education and the online industry.

However, chief executive Guy Phillipson says the biggest achievement is the creation - jointly with the Association of Online Publishers - of the UK Online Measurement Company (UKOM), which he describes as "a genuine milestone for online".

Phillipson says: "I'd like to put even more resource behind mobile and produce a dedicated mobile version of our Engage conference. Mobile will be a massive medium and it deserves a big stage. We'd also like to unlock the potential of in-game advertising."

The IAB is a proficient user of new technology, enlisting the help of news agency Adfero to provide a news service and manage its Twitter feed, which has 400 followers. It also uses video, webcasts, podcasts and page-turning technology.

Feedback from members is generally positive. However, members mention a couple of improvements. Tony Effik, chief strategy officer at Publicis Modem, says: "I'd like the IAB to change its name. Digital is no longer just about the internet and we don't only do advertising. And a bureau is not the sexiest place to hang out. I'd like a cooler name and a more radical mission around culture, technology and communications."

Meanwhile, the AOP has been slightly distracted by the ongoing negotiations with the PPA to loosen the ties between the two, and it has also had an unsettling year in terms of management. Director Ruth Brownlee left in October 2008, acting director Liz Somerville left this July and Lee Baker was appointed to the role in September

The AOP's major achievement this year is publication of its annual census, which provides an overview of the online publishing sector, including trends, threats and opportunities.

Dominic Collins, incoming co-chair and group director of Trader Media Group, says: "We are taking our responsibilities seriously, as shown by our joint stewardship of UKOM to finally bring to market an industry-wide audience measurement system."

Grade: B+


*All trade bodies have been graded according to the consensus of the members interviewed for this feature, based on the effectiveness of the bodies' efforts to promote their medium over the past year



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