Ad Agencies Register Concern on Economy

While not in panic mode, CEOs, national buyers closely monitor economy

Amalgamated CEO Charles Rosen draws a distinction between the noise around the political debt debate in Washington and how marketers and consumers are actually behaving. With the former, he rates his anxiety at an 8; with the latter, at 5½, maybe 6. “Consumer activity, consumer confidence, whether or not people are buying goods and actively participating in the economy—I don’t see that slowing down at any level like we had in 2008,” Rosen said. “What we’ve already started to see is companies, CMOs, and CEOs [saying], ‘We need to re-engage and get active again.’ They just can’t afford to sit on the sidelines the way they were doing in 2008.”

As a group, media buyers spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of spooking their clients, and in so doing, perhaps revealed burgeoning market jitters.

Generally speaking, there’s a gap of about six months between real-world cataclysms and the moment advertisers begin to cut back significantly on media spend. Marketers rarely make knee-jerk decisions based on short-term stock market fluctuations.

“We plan for contingencies; that’s a big part of what we do,” said one national TV buyer. “The assessments were made, and if the client absolutely feels like he can’t spend some of that money, he’ll pull out. But he does that knowing full well he’ll probably have to pay a huge increase when he tries to buy his way back onto [a network’s] prime-time [schedule].”

With a good five weeks to go before the conversion deadline, very few holds have gone to orders. Naturally, NFL inventory is getting nailed down and must-buys like Fox’ American Idol and The X Factor already have season-long commitments in hand. But for the most part, it’s hard to say how things will shake out in the next several weeks.

“We’re still getting our decks together,” the TV buyer said. “It’s early yet.” When asked how he’d characterize his own perspective on the marketplace, the buyer laughed ruefully. “We’ve been through this before," he said. "My anxiety level is always hovering at around 5. But if we’re talking about me personally, my 401(k)? I’d say 9.”

—Andrew McMains, Anthony Crupi, and Noreen O’Leary