Making media matter

Elsewhere in this issue, you will have read about the latest generation of media whiz kids to appear on the scene - if, indeed, media can be said to have a scene. And therein lies my concern. While it is good to see media have its day in the sun on these pages, blinking in the unaccustomed spotlight, the fact is that, for most marketing practitioners, media remains firmly hidden in a deep, dark and scary lair.

Elsewhere in this issue, you will have read about the latest generation of media whiz kids to appear on the scene – if, indeed, media can be said to have a scene. And therein lies my concern. While it is good to see media have its day in the sun on these pages, blinking in the unaccustomed spotlight, the fact is that, for most marketing practitioners, media remains firmly hidden in a deep, dark and scary lair.

Media, to the typical brand manager, is intimidating in its complexity, terminology and multiple acronyms, capped by the fact that it is a numerical discipline, which of course makes it geeky and uncool to be interested in. The outcome is that media’s black-box status just gets blacker and boxier, not because it is infinitely more complex, but because the key stakeholder – the client – increasingly doesn’t have the skill set, inclination, confidence or time to build the required expertise.

It is deliciously ironic, at a time when demonstrating that the marketing budget is being well spent has never been so in vogue, that the person accountable is often contributing nothing and paying only the most cursory lip-service to policing the effectiveness of the spend. Apparently, annual spending on media advertising in Canada is approaching $10 billion, so in the absence of demonstrable expertise on behalf of the marketers, it is only good business sense that the finance and procurement functions weigh in.

You’d think the marketing profession would be affronted by this invasion of their turf and implement draconian remedies, but you’d be wrong. In fact, it is the media professionals, in their subdued, sober ways, who are starting to respond. I can see why. It was depressing enough in the good old days, when they were the social pariahs of the full-service agency, but to encounter serial disengagement from their clients when they are now stand-alone operations just rubs salt into the wound.

I recently had lunch with an old sparring partner from the media world who has staked his future on just this issue. He set up his own business to allow clients to outsource the guardianship of their media spend not to a buyer of nuts and bolts, but to a seasoned media professional who has, in effect, defected to the other side. Check him out at prioritymedia.ca.

Of course, some bigger clients have always had their own media departments – perhaps one bespectacled specialist allocated the worst cubicle in the marketing department – and thus convinced themselves that everything was under control. But while that might make things a bit less out of control than at the typical client’s, it’s not enough.

Media is quite complex, what with all the backdoor shenanigans that go on between buyers and the media themselves, so personally I’d vote for someone who has some grey hairs and spent 20 years in that netherworld over some wannabe brand manager. And I speak from personal experience, because I was that wannabe.

You see, I was always a numbers guy, my first job being an ACNielsen analyst and sales forecaster. After 18 months of that, I applied for a vacancy advertised in the media services department of my own company. Although I was offered the job, it was trumped by one from the marketing department to become an assistant brand manager, and off I went into the world of glitz, glamour and office basketball.

I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice. I was always more interested in media than I was in creative, which made me something of a circus freak in the marketing department, but I soldiered on and gradually climbed the greasy pole of career advancement. By contrast, the person who took the media services job hit pay dirt a couple of years later when the department was allowed to spin itself off as an independent company. Even though she didn’t know much about media, she knew more than most of her new clients, which was good enough for a highly lucrative career and a ridiculously early retirement.

Today, however, the scrutiny of the effectiveness of marketing spend, coupled with the explosion in media outlets, means this is now a job for people who really know the ropes. And that, by definition, should exclude the brand manager. While it’s nice to see this magazine recognize media’s importance, it would be nicer for clients’ own bottom lines if they began to do the same.

John Bradley is a career marketer turned consultant and author of Cadbury’s Purple Reign. He responds to

queries/comments/fan mail sent to johnbradley@yknotsolutions.com.