The Business Card Shuffle

Want to see the future? Check out a media agency executive's business card. That's where you'll often find, condensed into an infobyte, how completely technology has trumped tradition and nonlinear media have transformed buying and planning.

Carat has an "engagement architect." Euro RSCG has a "creative director of media." Agencies that have bundled and unbundled media employ small armies of people with "insight" and "contact" in their titles. There are psychologists and ethnographers on staff. Now the usual creatives, modelers, economists, and plain old media planners are likely to rub shoulders with "consumer context planners," "communications planners," and other specialized titles.

To be sure, it is the job of a media professional to quickly absorb and effectively use every new wrinkle that springs from social transitions, pop culture, or advancements in technology. But nonlinear media arguably represents a Big Bang in the industry -- a change that changes everything.

Nonlinear content options and digital technologies have helped to put media at the head of the marketing table. The well-documented shift of control from marketers to consumers is no longer new; it's been six years since Unilever directed its then-agency, Initiative, to teach the gospel of "communications planning" to the packaged goods giant's marketing executives. Other blockbuster media reviews -- Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola -- were driven by a desire for planning and buying expertise across all media channels.

What was considered heresy in a mass-media world is now just smart thinking in the new nonlinear age. The effects of that transformation are both structural and conceptual. Richard Notarianni, the aforementioned executive creative director of media at Euro in New York, recalls that in the old linear media world, "Every single smart media idea you could think of was transgressive to the proper process of doing media. It ignored syndicated research hierarchy; it was less about a quantitative ranking. Every great idea rejected the rules."

In fact, Notarianni thinks the business hasn't gone far enough down the nonlinear road. "The vast majority of media thinking today is still about reach and frequency. There are a few cadres out there saying the value of the integration, implied or overt, and the creative expression is really what's important," he says, adding, "A few people now are making that a discipline, instead of a happy accident."

At newly formed IPG Media, CEO Mark Rosenthal is rallying agency brands behind the concept of "radical buying." At the Starcom MediaVest Group shops, consumer context planning is the name of the game. Lisa Donohue, executive vice president and managing director, cautions that the trick is "not to focus on technology for technology's sake but to focus on how it's changing consumer behavior."

Carat USA President Ray Warren says that planning in a nonlinear world is all about "the exposure/engagement issue." He notes that when longtime research chief Joanne Burke left Carat, she was replaced by two people, one as head of strategy and one as head of "insights." The ultimate goal of an engagement-based media approach, Warren notes, is to "get every touch point on a plan." That means not just paid media but promotions, event marketing, branded entertainment, public relations -- everything.

Still, even given its extraordinary impact on the planning function, nonlinear media has arguably put even more pressure on the buying side.

"Five or 10 years ago, our industry had one business model based on predetermined units," Donohue says. "You chose 30-second spots or a page or a 60-second radio commercial, and you paid money for it. In the new model of nonlinear media, nothing is predetermined and anything is possible," she says. "The reason that consumers go to video-on-demand is not necessarily the same as [why or how] they watch TV in a regular format. And it's the same with broadband. The biggest work on the buying side is to create new business models that work for all parties."

"That's the big lag," agrees Carat's Warren. "Right now, the metrics are not truly there. The content providers all understand what we're trying to do, and so you have News Corp. producing episodes of '24' that look pretty good on a cell phone -- which is great, but it's just more eyeballs. It still doesn't really tell us what it means in terms of measurement."

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