Talk to media planners or buyers who have been around awhile and they'll agree on one thing: The business is changing.
Megamergers, the Internet, the cable boom, relationship management and mixed-media package deals are just some of the elements stirring the mix.
With the speed of this change, clients are accelerating pressure on agencies to become jacks of all trades. It's no longer enough to put good ads on radio, TV and in print. The key is knowing how those media ingredients - and an onslaught of new ones - work together.
Three top agency executives who took part in a Feb. 21 panel at the J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Advertising Strategy Conference in Los Angeles addressed some primary issues facing them. The panel members were:
Coby Low, director of media planning at Rubin Postaer & Associates of Santa Monica, Calif.
Cindy Nelson, COO of BBDO Worldwide's PentaCom media-buying subsidiary in Detroit.
Andy Prakken, director of communications services at J. Walter Thompson in Detroit.
Low, a 23-year media-planning veteran, says the recent wave of media consolidation has not produced cost-effective integrated programs. Reps often simply offer more options without taking the time to understand how to package them.
'The media conglomerates should not come back to us with a little of everything that they have to offer and hope that we're going to pick up on one or two of them,' Low says. 'Come with a concise package. If something that you're offering doesn't make sense, don't put it in there.'
Prakken, from J. Walter Thompson, which has handled Ford Division's advertising for 57 years, echoes Low's sentiments.
The initial claim, he says, was that consolidation would provide multiple touchpoints with consumers. However, it hasn't been helpful. 'In fact,' he says, 'what has happened over the last few years is that (the media companies') model hasn't changed to a great degree,' so the touchpoints remain segregated.
For instance, salespeople still are expected to focus on one medium and are not trained or compensated in a way that encourages them to integrate all of the holding company's options. 'They're not necessarily organized to offer up total solutions,' Prakken says.
Nelson, from PentaCom, which handles media for DaimlerChrysler, says her agency isn't waiting for proposals for integrated buys. Instead, PentaCom is creating some of its own programs.
'We bring buyers and planners together and say, `OK, we've got this property, let's make the most out of it.' '
Agencies are on the lookout for effective Internet advertising.
J. Walter Thompson, Prakken says, is using the Internet to understand consumers' online habits and then exploiting that information to engage them in the brand. The agency's approach is a break from the original idea that the Web primarily would be a selling tool, especially in the automotive sector.
'The banner (buying) heyday has pretty much played out,' Prakken says. 'We got into flash pages, and that's played itself out. We got into sponsorships, and that's played itself out. Really, where it's going is toward content development - re-purposing content and developing original content that enhances the brand experience.'
Nelson says the recent shakeout of dot-coms has only reinforced media buyers' understanding of the limitations of an online strategy. DaimlerChrysler has primarily bought the medium as a sort of interactive reference book for potential buyers. The Internet 'can be just as important as it ever was as a way for us to be there, ready for (consumers) if they want information on our client's product,' she said.
Another fairly new element to the marketing mix, 'customer relationship management,' or using databases to tailor marketing efforts, is gaining similar consideration. Like the Internet, relationship marketing has been heralded as the next crucial tactic.
'At least from (J. Walter) Thompson's standpoint,' Prakken says, 'we don't look at it as `this is a direct-marketing/(relationship management) budget and this is a media budget.' We look at the whole program, and we're organized and structured in such a way that - whether you're in a relationship marketing environment, a database area or in a media, event, alliance or content development area - you're in one group.'
Nelson, though, says issues remain that need clarification. Top among them: How should customer relationship management be classified and funded?
This type of activity is increasing, she says, 'I hear a lot about it coming out of media budgets,' she says. 'I don't know how true that is, but I do know there's going to be a limited amount of money in a marketing budget. At some point, something's going to have to happen.'