Hugh Dow: 25 years at MacLaren: ‘Media champs step forward’

Few media directors have had the kind of impact on the advertising and media community as has Hugh Dow.Dow arrived in Canada in 1967 after seven years in media research in London, Eng.He started as a media supervisor at McKim Advertising,...

Few media directors have had the kind of impact on the advertising and media community as has Hugh Dow.

Dow arrived in Canada in 1967 after seven years in media research in London, Eng.

He started as a media supervisor at McKim Advertising, then joined MacLaren Advertising two years later as manager of the agency’s Media Data Centre.

Over the past 25 years at MacLaren, Dow has been a leading figure in the communications industry, both through active involvement in various media-related associations and as an innovator in his own agency.

Dow was at the forefront of the development of specialized media buying and planning units within ad agencies as stand-alone operations.

He was instrumental in the launch of Initiative Media in 1990, a full-service media management company, operating under the umbrella of MacLaren: Lintas.

Initiative Media handles the media needs of MacLaren clients as well as a growing list of non-MacLaren businesses.

Dow’s involvement spans most of the media industry. He is a director and past chairman of the PMB Print Measurement Bureau, and a director and past-president of the Canadian Media Directors’ Council.

He is chairman of the board of the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

He has also served on the board of BBM Bureau of Measurement as a director and vice-chairman.

Dow’s contributions to the marketing community were acknowledged in 1984 when he was awarded the Association of Canadian Advertisers’ Gold Medal.

I started off in media research at a time when research, in general, was a much bigger component of the advertising agency business.

When I started at McKim [Advertising,] I think we had 16 people in the research division, and media research was just a part of that.

There was a research library and research account executives.

Obviously, what we’ve seen happen over the years is that the research function has all but disappeared. In some cases, the research division used to play a greater role on the client’s behalf than any other part of the agency.

It’s now being farmed out mostly to independent research companies.

There is no question that the loss of this function has been a factor in the disappearance of a unique knowledge base that agencies once had about the consumer, the client’s business and the marketplace in general.

The media function back then was pretty straightforward, and you had little choice, or need, but to approach it that way. It was, for the most part, a costing exercise.

Yes, there were negotiations, but, beyond that, it didn’t require much imagination. It certainly didn’t have the intuitive components that are necessary today. It was much more of a quantitative exercise.

We’re seeing much more of a transtition in today’s media world towards the qualitative side of the equation. There’s a demand today for a much broader perspective on the part of the media buyer and the media planner.

There are totally new demands. The ability to sell and to communicate weren’t terribly important. You simply trundled off with a media plan and stuck it down in front of the client.

Today’s media people really have to sell and to generate ethusiasm and excitement about what they’re proposing. They must sell concepts or ideas instead of grps.

Media departments and media people in agencies have a long way to come. We’re still in a grind.

I suppose there’s a grudging acceptance in most agencies of the increasingly important role of media. But that’s not been reflected in any meaningful reallocation of resources in the agency.

Certainly, there have been people who have managed to wrestle resources away and to have them placed directly behind media planning and buying.

Initiative Media is a case in point, but we tend to be the exceptions. That reallocation, on an industry-wide basis, has not happened to the degree that I think is necessary.

We’re starting to see some new investment in media happening in New York, where interactive groups or infomercial groups are forming as parts of ad agencies.

But it’s definitely not happening as fast as is necessary to keep up with the changing media environment.

If I had all the resources I needed today, I think I would create separate divisions within the agency whose sole responsibilities would be to learn and to educate other people, clients particularly, about the many opportunities available to them. And to really explore the entire spectrum of possibilities.

Yet, it would have to be done in the context of a carefully constructed plan. It’s so easy to get carried away with research and development and go charging down blind alleys.

There has to be a balance, I think, in the overall operation, so that you’re not always reacting, but anticipating and really leading change.

We have a saying around here that the best way of coping with change is to create it. If you can adapt yourself to that notion, I think you’re well on your way towards dealing with today’s rapid change.

The world is so complex today, and there’s still so much that’s unresolved in terms of media technology, that it’s sometimes easy to overlook the fact that there are many real and tangible opportunities out there.

The trick, at the moment, is to try to develop a reasonable advertising presence within these oppotunities.

For instance, there are incredible opportunities right now in the publishing industry with respect to compact discs.

Print, in particular, is a random access medium, and is, therefore, well-positioned to take advantage of cd-rom products.

The challenge, of course, is that you can’t simply stick a full-screen television-type commercial or print page onto the cd.

And there’s the whole interactive area which, contrary to most peoples’ thinking, is not confined to television.

There are all sorts of interactive developments taking place in literally all media, where consumers are feeding information back and responding to advertisers.

The implications of interactivity are quite extraordinary because interactivity overcomes all the deficiencies that we’ve been trying to address for ages, such as accountability, response, measurability, the creation of databases.

All of those things that in the past we would throw up our hands and say, `Sorry, we just don’t have an answer’ we can, or soon will be able to, quantify. Such as how many responses we were able to generate using this or that communications approach.

The adjustment that will be required within the ad agency is enormous. It has an impact not only on the media department but the creative department as well.

Looking ahead, it seems impossible to expect any one discipline to cover the whole range of possibilities.

It will require multidisciplined teams or groups to stay on top of all the opportunities out there, and to develop the most effective communications programs.

There will definitely be many interactive solutions in the future with a clear, defined, measurable response component.

Without doubt, those advertisers who have relied so heavily on image advertising in the past will be facing the greatest challenges in this new environment.

To be able to suddenly switch to an information-driven advertising campaign, while maintaining all the inherent strengths that brand equity can deliver within that environment, is the key.

It’s a huge challenge that will require some adjustment in thinking.

I must say that I am being surprised these days by some of the initiatives coming directly from some of the media. It has required some prodding on our part, but there are some pretty encouraging signs.

Look at some of the things that Southam has done in trying to get into interactivity and cd-roms.

Many of the major print players in this country are addressing the issue of database marketing and providing an interface with their subscriber lists.

And ctv and cbc are getting involved with Compusearch to improve the quality of their audience research.

A new relationship is beginning to happen. There is a wholesale awakening in the media that they must address the qualitative aspect of their products rather than relying on cost-per-thousands or cost-per-rating-point.

But there’s no great avalanche of change yet. It’s more a matter of a little piece here and a little piece there.

I would agree with those people who say that the ‘leverage’ and ‘media clout’ stories have probably had their day.

The issue now is resources, research, knowledge and, as I said, the qualitative aspects of media planning and buying.

We are developing superior targetting today, which means that a media plan is much more focussed on delivering prospects as opposed to box car numbers.

That is the biggest change of all. The days of rigid frequency criteria and the straight numerical components of media buying are really disappearing.

That, in turn, brings with it a whole new set of stresses and strains on the buying and selling dynamic because it’s so difficult to standardize the process.

It’s leading to, possibly, the absence or elimination of rate cards, with prices being determined on the basis of the situation at hand.

It’s also putting incredible new pressure on resources.

A quantitative answer was easy because, by its very nature, it was usually a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on a numerical computation.

Qualitative answers, also by their nature, are interpretive and based on judgment as much as numerical fact, requiring more thinking, more interpretation, and, therefore, more of the scarcest of resources, people.

If anything, this trend will continue, particularly because of the interactive component. The yardstick will increasingly become response, instead of eyeballs, or people reading the page.

It’s going to become, ‘How many people picked up the telephone and dialed the 1-800 number?’ Or, ‘How many people did something to indicate interest in the product, or more information about the product?’

This is paving a whole new road that will determine how media is bought in the future.

What this means to the media people in agencies is that they will have to adapt to a fundamental shift in the way they develop media plans, moving away from numbers and into imagination and creativity.

Let’s face it, media planning used to be pretty boring. Clients were bored by it, and most agencies were bored by it.

All clients used to see were blocking charts with a few lines on them denoting grp levels together with names of magazines. Not surprisingly, it didn’t really do much for them.

Today, clients want to get excited about their media plans, and it’s increasingly up to the planners to elicit that excitement in their presentations.

What I look for in a media planner today, more than anything else, is attitude, one’s attitude towards learning. And the willingness to express an opinion. Intuition. And the ability to passionately present a concept or ideas.

The requirements also include competence, confidence and good judgment.

It has been easy to sell in the past when you had a bunch of raw numbers to fall back on. Today, we’re selling from a totally different dimension, which requires a totally different kind of person.

The pressures, back to the agency, will be to provide the resources, the support and the training that these people will need to help them in this new world. So far, the industry has done very little.

The pattern, to date, has been to send junior people out with senior people and hope they catch on. In some cases, they did; in other cases, they didn’t. But, meantime, it took years for people to become productive.

We can no longer afford to wait years. That will have to change. Some investment has to be made to improve our method of training. It’s tough, though.

There’s a lot more to learn and fewer resources to invest in learning.

Apart from the media giants with all their resources, there is ample, if not increasing, opportunity in this country for the nimble and creative media consultant.

The emergence of smaller organizations like the one that David Cairns (former media director of Chiat/Day) has opened, their very appearance on the scene, will spur some of the larger operations to look into new areas and directions.

It’s parallel in many ways to what we’ve seen in the creative arena where senior people are going off on their own to provide senior help and alternative services to clients.

I can easily see that happening in media.

It would make sense in terms of technical know-how, providing a particular type of computer literacy, for example, and generally providing an area of expertise, be it interactivity or direct marketing.

Again, it’s going to be very difficult to have all of these areas of competency in any one place. There are pockets of expertise all over the country, and I can see the day when the larger organizations will find themselves drawing upon those specialties to really make things happen.

We are poised on the edge of the most exciting change in media that certainly my – and probably any other – generation will ever witness.

The media and technology will basically drive the business in the years to come. And I’m not sure that many people, agency people especially, have quite come to terms with that yet.

There are just too many vested interests in the agency that are preventing that from happening.

But what we’re talking about, really, is an enormous change, and we can’t even imagine yet what the consequences of that change will be.

What we’re talking about is taking what was essentially a back-room operation in many agencies, and having it thrust out and suddenly put into the fore.

Whether the people are really there to lead the change is one of the big questions we face right now.

Sadly, from the standpoint of career path, media is still not considered the better way to go. Until it is, and until we develop a generation of true leaders in the media part of the advertising or communications process, that change will be slow in developing.

The media revolution, however, will provide enormous opportunity for leadership.

In fact, it will be an essential ingredient for any successful media operator whether it’s a media boutique or a full-service agency function.

I firmly believe that the whole new media world we are facing will attract a new breed of media practitioner. Without question, media is where the action will be in the advertising process.

So, media champions, step forward. Your time has come.