Column: Measurement - Stanching the Brain Drain

  • by June 22, 2005

By Mark Green

TNS media intelligence reports that traditional ad spending grew 107 percent since 1990, after being adjusted for inflation. If you include recent fast-growth media like the Internet, which TNS started reporting in 2001, these numbers get hotter still.

Over this same period, ad agency staffing actually shrank by 4 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Media employees did better, with a 36 percent increase in their numbers. However, the BLS doesn't break out media buying from media sales employees, and I have to think that there was disproportionately more growth in media sales. A large increase in real ad spending with a minor uptick in media agency staffing suggests either breakthroughs in media science and management, or questions of competency and accountability.

Last month, I observed that the measurement sciences aren't keeping pace with new media and the evolution of "old" media. The fact is, many media measurements and tools have hardly changed since 1990. The introduction of optimizers, some data integration, and basic Internet tools are the big exceptions. And media practitioners will tell you that these new tools have created more work, not better productivity.

The shiny new business pitches reflect updated packaging or require a lot of explanation of pilot ideas. Generally, pilot ideas are good ideas that haven't been thought through to implementation. Most of the time, pilot ideas fail because they don't fit into planning and buying processes, and agencies don't have the talent or infrastructure to implement these new ideas. Finding the right talent is a big issue.

In today's volatile media universe, solid analyses are heavily dependent on experienced practitioners. Yet industry leaders sounded bleak in a recent Advertising Age story.

Donny Deutsch, CEO of Interpublic Group's Deutsch, points to "an incredible dearth of talent." Meanwhile, talent expert Sharon Spielman, managing director of Jerry Fields Associates, points to the core issue: "agencies haven't significantly invested in training talent."

Looking at the BLS numbers, we aren't surprised. Essentially, the industry's talent pool is increasingly challenged by aging measurement methodologies and tools, and a lack of training. Staffing represents over 55 percent of media agencies' costs, and needs to be treated as a valuable asset. A few of us in the industry founded the Media Learning Institute to think about the future of measurements, tools, and staffing.

Managing staff quality needs to be the industry's No. 1 issue. We see testing as the best gauge of quality, and independent certifications as the best way to monitor quality.

The Media Learning Institute recommends staff assessments that score employee skills and specific in-depth knowledge for core job functions, related knowledge for working with connected business functions, and extended knowledge that can be leveraged by the organization. Scorecards frame skill areas, strengths, and weaknesses. The Institute has developed tools to make assessments easy to implement.

Mark Green is senior vice president, media services, VNU Global Modeling & Analytics, and the founding partner of the Media Learning Institute. (

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