Media Agencies Ready to Rumble for ROI


For marketers, 2009 may be a year of experimentation and changing channels. At the very least they will be thinking hard about shifting dollars to different ad platforms where there could be a better return on investment during the recession.

At media shops, job one will be helping clients navigate those moves as they fly into the economic turbulence. ROI pressures have never been stronger, according to media agency executives, and shops will redouble efforts to develop new offerings and metrics that provide greater return on client expenditures.

Certainly the year is going to follow one of rapidly softening spending.

According to Interpublic's Magna, U.S. media spending fell to an estimated $270.8 billion in 2008, from $279.6 billion in 2007. Globally, the total rose a meager 0.5 percent to reach $642.8 billion in 2008.

"All clients are asking how soft is soft and what does it mean for them," said Initiative U.S. president Tim Spengler. "We're encouraging our clients to start with a blank slate and question everything. This environment could actually provide the ability for more innovation and opportunities to do the never-been-done before. It's a time to take advantage of media companies' willingness to try different things or models that maybe they wouldn't do in stronger markets."

Executives at other shops agreed. "This is an environment where no one knows what is going to happen when you wake up tomorrow," said Alan Cohen, CEO, Omnicom's OMD U.S., who also anticipates that clients will be reshuffling their platform mixes next year in a bid for greater return and efficiencies. "You can't sit still in a sea change environment." And clients that try to use the same media plan to launch a new product that they used just a short time ago will likely founder: "Things are changing too quickly," Cohen said.

Flexibility is key, said Bill Koenigsberg, founder and CEO of independent media agency Horizon. "That's what I am preaching internally-in the marketplace, in the deals we negotiate, with our staffing levels and in our ability to move quickly in any direction."

Bill Tucker, CEO, Publicis Groupe's MediaVest agreed, adding that a certain amount of risk taking may also be in order. "Clients need to be daring in terms of following the consumers," he said. "Content and messaging has to remain relevant and they're going to need different communications during the recession. Sometimes it is much riskier not to take some chances than it is to take a chance." Opportunities are likely to present themselves in the down economy to "get great things done," Tucker said.

Channels and platforms that stand to gain client support in the coming year? "Targeted more efficient forms will be the gainers," said Spengler, which translates more specifically to cable and digital. But that's not to denigrate network TV, he cautioned. "I think there is value in big events, but the question that has to be asked is, what is big event mass media and what isn't but says it is and charges you for it?" he said.

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