Art & Commerce: Media Is the Message

The industry’s future is the big story of the next century
It’s good to be the kings. For decades, advertising’s creative stars stole the show and the media department toiled in the shadows. Creativity was dazzling art directors who were too hip for the room and brooding copywriters complaining about clients ruining “The Work.” Media meant invisible men and women tucked away in plain cubicles next to accounting, or they were fast-talking sales types bartering time and space like carny barkers hustling rubes on the midway.
Now, creatives were never as glamorous and media executives never as banal as these stereotypes. But as symbols of the relative respect each discipline received within the ad business, they were on target.
Then, tomorrow arrived, calling itself “fragmentation,” “consolidation,” “globalization” and “the Internet.” Suddenly, media mattered. Within a decade, media agencies, huge worldwide enterprises controlling vast ad budgets and wielding remarkable resources, came to dominate the business. Today, media executives make power deals, use energetic words like “smart” and “entrepreneurial” and get their pictures on the front page.
We’ve become used to this new prominence (although media folks still love to joke about the bad old days), but it’s far from static. In fact, the metamorphosis of the media function in marketing communications is a work in progress–and it’s accelerating. The discipline’s impact on advertising throughout the world will continue to increase and both the responsibilities and skill sets of media agency professionals will continue to change as a consequence.
Most global media agencies are unfinished works, not fully operational or even functional in certain markets. Just this week, Unilever postponed its media review in the U.S., in part, sources say, because the three contending media agencies haven’t finished inventing themselves.
Questions remain about what new media options will flourish in the 21st century. Is enhanced television–interactivity– the rich opportunity some media thinkers believe? Or is it an idea whose time never came? Are we on the brink of convergence? Or will the television and computer remain separate? Perhaps some new idea or technology will strike us like a thunderbolt out of a cloudless sky and we’ll rethink everything yet again.
Some buyers and sellers say a new kind of media generalist is on the horizon, an ad conductor who uses different medialike instruments in a symphony to make marketing music for his or her clients. Then there is the most dramatic prospect of all: a fundamental shift in the media business model from measuring eyeballs to delivering results, from counting CPMs to measuring return on investment.
All this is the province of the media executive. Our trio of stories in this week’s Media Agency Report isn’t just a tip of the hat to the new power center in global advertising; it’s a prelude of coverage to come.
Media executives may have taken their show to Broadway, but they’re nowhere near the final act. There’s plenty of action left–and more surprises–before the curtain falls. K
Jack Feuer, Media Editor, Adweek is based in Los Angeles.