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IQ News: Running On The FAST Track

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P&G's FAST Summit is revving up online media.
Last month a series of meetings took place in New Brunswick, N.J., each involving an interactive media company and marketing executives from Johnson & Johnson. The executives had been introduced to one another in August at an unusual locale: the Future of Advertisers Stakehold- ers Summit held at Procter & Gamble headquarters in Cincinnati.
But the September discussions weren't a continuation of the big picture talk that went on at the conference. No, this was about business. Johnson & Johnson Internet business. It appeared that the company, somewhat of a rival to P&G, had leveraged the FAST summit into an opportunity to call on some of the best shops in the new media industry to pitch for J&J's online media business.
Certainly, at least some of the list of alleged participants--Agency.com, Think New Ideas, CKS Group and online ad network DoubleClick, all New York--had built industry-wide reputations well before the FAST summit. But the observation, made by industry insiders, that there was some connection between each company's attendance at the summit and their subsequent invitation to pitch for J&J business, probably wasn't off the mark either.
Thus is the lingering power of the FAST summit, and of its creator, P&G, that the event continues to generate talk. Some of it, such as some new initiatives to standardize online reporting and measurement, is exactly the kind of dialogue the conference was meant to achieve. But another, sexier discussion is that sparked by the J&J review: about whether the meeting served to inadvertently weed out the Internet advertising haves from the have-nots.
Naturally, some of those who weren't invited continue to allege--off the record only, of course--that P&G was showing favoritism by mainly inviting agencies they work with. And the conspiracy theorists also contend they have a slimmer chance at landing new business from deep-pocketed advertisers which also attended, such as AT&T, Nike, McDonald's and Unilever. (They may not have noticed, however, that the summit-spawned FAST Forward Steering Committee is open for membership to anyone in the industry through registration on the www.fastsummit.com Web site.)
"It's become the gold standard of credentials with prospects to say you were there," states Chris Marriott, senior vice president of client service at interactive P&G shop Think. (Marriott refused to comment on the J&J review.)
This perhaps unexpected outgrowth of the P&G summit illustrates that as new media takes more prominence, some things never change--especially the admiration other advertisers have for P&G.
Another attendee, Bill Markel, managing director of New York-based Interactive8, explains the FAST summit served as an epiphany to reluctant (many would say "clueless") advertisers who haven't been educated about online media by their peers or their agencies. "I think a lot of people came out of the FAST summit and said, 'Oh my God. There's that many people spending that much time online that are in my demo?'"
Now Markel, whose clients include M&M/Mars and cable network A&E Television, finds his phone ringing too--and potential clients often on the other end of the receiver. He observes: "Brand managers [who attended FAST] are getting back to me and saying, 'Bill, I challenge you to find on the Internet the connection to the audience I'm trying to reach--because my traditional agency can't find it for me.'"
Fortunately for P&G, and other attendees, a plethora of new business pitches is not all that has been spawned by the meeting. In fact, it's likely the first evidence of the summit's impact on the industry will come from the FAST Forward Steering Committee, now with 500 members, which is rapidly taking on difficult, industry-wide issues. The group, chaired by Rich LeFurgy, a former online media executive who is also chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau, is developing standards for online ad models, media buying, audience measurement criteria and consumer-related projects.
At the Ad:tech conference in New York later this month, the committee will make public some of the early results of its work, including a preliminary standard for measuring ad impressions served, LeFurgy says. Commit-tee members will have 30 to 60 days to comment on the results, "then it becomes a voluntary guideline to use or not use."
Participation is vital to reach consensus about online advertising guidelines, LeFurgy explains. "We are at a point in the industry where there's a real incentive for us to work together," he says. For instance, he stresses that advertisers need a uniformed reporting mechanism for requesting data on audience size or ad impressions served. The lack of uniformity is a waste of money and time for publishers, agencies and clients.
Other attendees have their eyes on the bigger picture. The most common observation about the summit was that because so many marquee advertisers were in attendance (many still marvel that P&G and Unilever officials sat under the same roof) money is bound to shift to online media. M&M/Mars chief operating officer Paul Michaels said at the conference that he could envision major advertisers allocating as much as 40 percent of their ad budget to digital media over the next few years.
The "digital media" catch phrase was also on the mind of Denis Beausejour, vice president of advertising for P&G Worldwide. He stated that within the next five years he could see P&G, which currently spends more than $3 billion on advertising annually, allocating as much as
80 percent of its media budget to "interactive digital media," which by the company's definition encompasses the Internet and digital television.
At least the talk is encouraging right now.
"To me this is an enormous step because of the level of the people involved and the unanimity to a commitment," says Bob Schmetterer, chairman of New York-based Euro RSCG Worldwide. Schmetterer would like to see more focus on the "role of advertising subsidizing [consumer] costs of the medium It's not blue sky. It's an obvious question. The role of advertising historically is responsible for reducing the media costs for consumers."
But there's also interest in generating more usage among consumers--one summit panel floated the idea of running a Web usage awareness campaign similar to the "Got Milk?" efforts of the California Milk Processors Board and Dairy Management.
Such ideas are certainly thought-provoking, but Schmetterer warns that the funding of such efforts will come only when his counterparts at the larger traditional agencies get up to speed about the intricacies of the medium--and that has yet to happen, he contends. "The CEOs of the traditional advertising agencies are clueless generally about this medium," he says.
With P&G and other major advertisers now expressing interest in the medium, maybe that won't be true for much longer.