Real Media Riffs - Thursday, Sep 29, 2005

BON AMI -- The last thing the ad industry would seem to need is another set of initials, but as far as we're concerned Madison's Avenue's newest acronym -- AMI -- is a pretty good thing. Or at least, it would seem so. We'll have to wait to hear the precise details when they are announced later today, but it was high time that Madison Avenue got more say in the media measurement process. We understand that AMI will be an industry-wide initiative, and that its stakeholders will include all customers of media research: the sellers of media, as well as the planners, buyers, and advertisers of it. But it has seemed, too, that Madison Avenue's voice has been dimming, not growing, on the subject of media measurement, at a time when it's more important than ever for the industry to be heard.

And we don't mean just the exodus of talented, informed, and respected research executives from the advertising world. We're riffed on that subject plenty enough. What we mean is that Madison Avenue's influence and representation on the subject of media research appears to have been slipping in recent years, even though the complexity of media audience measurement has been growing, along with demands for greater accountability.

Surely we understand that the ad industry is one of the voices represented within important trade groups, such as the watchdog Media Rating Council, but we also know that powerful media companies tend to have more votes and representation in the MRC than advertisers or agencies do.

An even bigger concern has been the not-so-subtle shifts in the organization of the Advertising Research Foundation, a group that was founded originally by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers to represent and advance the research interests of the ad community. But other interests are increasingly gaining influence within the ARF, even as Madison Avenue's support has waned. The ad industry's dilution is mainly a function of consolidation. There are simply fewer independent agencies around to be ARF members than in years past.

So we have to give credit to ARF chief Bob Barroci for being resourceful and finding new areas of support and funding for the ARF. His mandate is not simply to maintain the ARF's charter, but to grow it. He has been a forceful agent of change for the whole accountability issue, and a major factor in the creation of AMI.

Still, the ARF has fallen under a stronger influence from suppliers of media and research than from end-users. The most evident example of this trend has been Nielsen's influence on the ARF during what would seem to be a time when even greater neutrality was required between the powerful TV measurement company and the foundation. Despite the apparent conflict, Nielsen's Chief Research Officer, Paul Donato, has presided over the ARF during a multiyear term as chairman. Why the ARF and Donato haven't opted to recuse Donato from his ARF chairman post during this tumultuous period is something we hear people ask all the time. (It's not that Donato isn't a credible researcher. He is one of the smartest and most respected ever.)

Another growing relationship between the ARF and the vendor side concerns Microsoft's MSN unit, which recently struck a 10-year deal to sponsor the ARF's Ogilvy Awards, as well as a series of events and publications related to the awards. The deal is good because it gives the ARF greater resources to extend the Ogilvy Awards to a bigger audience. But it does raise questions about the growing influence of vendors in an organization whose original mandate was to service the ad industry.

AMI, meanwhile, appears to be a step in the right direction, giving Madison Avenue more of a presence on the important subject of media research and accountability. To that we say, bon ami. But pardon our French.

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