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"The AOR or media agency will continue to grow in importance because this is where one talks money."
Arun Kumar, Associate Media Director, MPG, Delhi
The Media Planner: Endangered Species?
Three developments in the near future will produce a different expectation from media planning as a profession, one that could change its profile forever. And in so doing they might have serious impact on the entire brand planning process. The three of them are disparate but will lead in the same direction.
The first development is not visible right now but is almost upon us like a huge storm about to break. So far advertisers have had it good. They just had to fire their creative at consumers repeatedly and sooner than later the message would get through. All debates in the media planning profession have centered on how many times do we have to `shoot' the consumer before he gets the message. At best the consumer could switch channels but where could he hide?
But new technology is already changing all that, at the rate of Moore's law that is. The consumer is talking back to us. In most developed countries, interactive media have become big enough to warrant separate specialist units of their own within the agency's portfolio. Interactive TV is big in the UK and Canal Plus and Sky Digital are extending their presence across Europe. In the US, TiVo (the latest version of the VCR in a digital format) is causing headaches to advertisers. You can record all your favorite shows simultaneously, skip all the ads, and spread them around the world through your PC. There's a whole new society that calls itself the TiVo hackers. They just bust encryption codes, pilfer content and spread the good stuff.
Sure India is far from it all, but here too the consumer is finally going to get a chance. CAS is just the first step in the long line towards greater chaos. The consumer will get an option to choose his channels, and when he does, he is going to talk back. Yes, its true that it might take a good two years before things stabilize and another two before true interactivity comes to India. But lets skip that and admit that it sure isn't going to be easy planning media from now, is it?
Audience fragmentation across and within media has produced a corresponding fragmentation in skill sets required to deal with it, the second development that is going to accelerate soon. This fragmentation has led to the birth of specialists across the spectrum of marketing communications with one serious flaw. While in the past account management used to be the brand's sole custodian in all senses of the term, today's media scenario has left the control of the brand's media strategy ambiguous (media being defined as both mass and personalized). In most cases, the brand manager ends up being the link between all the specialist units.
In the absence of there being a single knowledge point in the media department, clients have developed some expertise across media. Tobacco companies here have a better understanding of outdoor than many outdoor units, leave alone media planners. Similarly, liquor companies understand events and promotions better than media planners. It's not too often that one finds media apart from the usual suspects evaluated and recommended in a media plan/strategy presentation. The lack of expertise in personalized/ non-measurable media produces media plans that are not honestly in conjunction with the time spent by consumers on media.
A great example of how media agencies have been shown up is in the use of the web. Most of us still don't understand how the medium works and how to use it. That's because most of us have not invested in learning about a medium where spends are low. But it's the first truly interactive medium and costly lessons learnt by the few who have ventured will prove valuable when mainstream media become interactive.
Both these developments will produce the third: a change in the caste system of the media world. Planners/Buyers have always been the owners of data and thereby leaders in the knowledge of viewership/readership. That ownership has translated into superior analysis and understanding of consumer trends than what most media houses have. But what happens if there is census data available on viewership through CAS? Today's CAS will evolve into interactive TV some time in the near future. Who would own the data then?
The media owners would. Their servers would capture the interaction. Research agencies in developed countries are already facing the problem of continuing to lead the race for data production. Wouldn't it be a change similar to that of lower castes educating themselves and then challenging the might of the Brahmins?
Consumer interactivity, fragmenting skill sets and widespread knowledge availability will challenge the media planning profession. What could be the response? In the long term, the profession will have to produce planners who can facilitate and lead strategies and have enough understanding to see them get implemented by specialist units across media, mass, personalized, measured or un-measured.
In the short term, a possible solution could arise from redefining the role of the media/planning director. The agency structures of today are flat, and most media structures mirror that. The solution lies in adding width to a media team. If there needs to be a holistic approach to media, distributed knowledge and responsibility does not help.
The role of the media director must evolve into taking leadership for a brand's media solutions across the board. He/she must be evaluated on the ability to understand and use all media as well as integrating with other specialist units. In many ways, the media director of the future might mirror the account planner of today. The media director must represent the media consumer in the agency. He or she can then have a wide team comprising direct marketing specialists, event specialists etc reporting into him or her. Or the alternative structure could be specialist units feeding into the core media team. Specialist units have to be considered as competence extensions not isolated islands of profitability.
This change will come slowly because most habits of media agencies are a function of the margins they make in this business. The AOR or media agency will continue to grow in importance because this is where one talks money. Perhaps AORs that can bring integrated offerings to their clients will manage to command better compensations and thereby sustain a new business model. Nevertheless the objective for us must be to ensure that clients see us as value multipliers and not suppliers. The good news is that whether we do that or not, the consumer is definitely going to make the previous business model go bust and force all of us to shape up.
The Media Planning discipline will have to produce a structure that ensures leadership of the entire media process right up to implementation. If brand managers become leaders of the media process because of the vacuum we have produced, then like most middlemen our existence will be under pressure. The solution lies in moving back a step and ending our fascination for the television medium. Media consumers in the future will be scattered across media and will make their choices known quite clearly. As we continue to move to that future, let us learn to become Special Forces than continue to be marines.