Deconstruction of the Media Landscape

It's official - at least according to The Meyer's Report. ...

It’s official – at least according to The Meyer’s Report.

This daily media and marketing newsletter recently released polling results from ad executives in the United States finding that a media recession was imminent. The majority thought a recovery would take place at least by mid-2002.

As Canada’s advertising industry moves into an economic downturn, a relatively young generation of media planners and buyers will try to come to terms with something new in their professional lives – how to cope with the impact of media vehicle deconstruction. They’ve never learned how to manage their client’s media resource in times of media downturn and failure.

Today’s media departments are filled with five-year veterans. The hot business environment, which represented the sole training ground for many of today’s media professionals, also resulted in the rapid advancement of these same media professional – a function of high demand and limited supply of new media talent. They grew up in a business environment exemplified by new builds, launches and generously capitalized, new media ventures. Specialty Television, for example, has grown from nothing to 30% share of (buyable) tuning during their reign. Internet sites have sprung up where none existed before. Dozens of new radio stations have been launched in major markets. The young media professional has even witnessed the rarest of media events – a new national newspaper launch.

Since the last recession back in the early 1990s, the new-wave media planners/buyers have only known annual rate increases and media sellers who expect, and even demand, more advertiser revenue year-over-year. They have not dealt in the bad times. They have never managed media budgets through times of economic uncertainty. They’ve never dealt with the sudden changes in our media landscape brought about by failures and closures and shutdowns. And they’ve never negotiated in times of falling demand for commercial time and space.

There is more to dealing with media deconstruction than meets the eye. After the embarrassment and the explanations as to why that Web site, heartily recommended yesterday, had its plug pulled today, the resulting change in consumer’s media behaviour needs to be understood. The plan needs to be changed in order to backfill the hole left by the bankrupt vehicle. More importantly, planners must anticipate where the newly liberated consumers have gone because new media landscapes cause new consumer flow patterns.

I draw your attention to the eastern end of the Gardiner Express-way or at least what’s left of it, as a real life example of deconstruction, landscape alteration, consumer reaction and shifts in flow patterns.

The last of the concrete pillars still standing are a reminder that there was once an elevated highway here. On-ramps that once launched cars from ground level, stand off to the side of the roadway, waiting for the welder’s torch. Exposed re-bars stick out of the side of concrete like metallic tendons in some Grade B monster robot movie. The ground is covered with rubble that was once poured concrete carrying cars high above the east end of Toronto.

The landscape in this part of town has changed dramatically and therein lies the first media lesson: the new, demolished environment is disconcerting because it has been created so quickly. Deconstruction is sudden. There isn’t much warning. Similarly, media structures that took months or years to build, can be gone in days or hours. In the good times, media plans had to be created quickly. In bad times, media plans need to be created and re-created even more quickly.

The Gardiner functioned as a roadway but served as a landmark – a landmark that was eliminated so quickly that you could sense hesitation in the traffic flows. Car drivers in the vicinity wondered where they were and where they were going. The media lesson is this? Media vehicles function as information, entertainment and advertising carriers but serve as media landmarks. When they disappear, consumers quickly become disoriented and quickly move to new vehicles.

And so the media planner, who had ample time to evaluate the newly constructed Roger’s Springboard Web site, for example, must now make some very fast decisions as the site quickly sinks from view. Where are those consumers going? How should the plan be modified in order to track the disoriented traffic? Baby Boomers favorite radio landmark, 1050 CHUM, shed its musical heritage on May 6. Planners will be learning how to track down these disoriented radio listeners as they wander through they new landscape in search of new listening posts.

Being an older, more mature media guy, I’d suggest that planners develop fallback deconstruction scenarios. Which media landmarks are likely to come under the economic wrecking ball next? What should I do if/when that happens? I’d also suggest these fallbacks be created for the subway paper medium, the Internet medium, the digital channel medium and the segment of the radio medium experiencing format morphing.

And finally, I’d suggest a quick car ride down to the east end of the Gardiner expressway. There’s nothing like a face-to-face encounter with a wrecking ball to help sensitize ones self to deconstructed media landscapes.

Rob Young is a founding partner and SVP, planning and research, at Toronto-based Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell. Send comments to