Real Media Riffs - Wednesday, Nov 29, 2006

THE MANDEL OPERANDI -- Jon Mandel is an inspired choice to pull all of Nielsen's pieces back together again. It's been tried before, and with what would seem like a comparatively smaller portfolio of research services than Nielsen has today, or increasingly plans to have in the future. When it acquired both Nielsen Media Research and ACNielsen in the 1980s, Dun & Bradstreet tried to sum up something whose parts were worth more than their whole. Ultimately, D&B failed, and the lack of corporate synergy led to the second breakup of the two Nielsens.

But like two large celestial bodies with powerful gravitational attractions, the two Nielsens have once again been reassembled under Dutch ownership operating out of lower Manhattan. Apparently, VNU is no longer satisfied with Nielsen Media Research and ACNielsen going Dutch. It wants to bring them back together again. And recently appointed CEO David Calhoun thinks Mandel is just the guy to do it. He might be right. Calhoun is an ex-GE heavyweight, which means he's steeped in quality management, trained in the black-belted arts of Six Sigma, with a keen eye for talent, disposition and promise.



On paper, Mandel has got all the right ingredients, carrying equal amounts of weight with three of Nielsen's most important constituents: advertisers, agencies and the media, particularly Nielsen's core base of TV companies. He's also got some ins and insights into another important Nielsen stakeholder: the U.S. government. In recent years, Mandel has been among the most active members of the Four As media committees to lobby Capitol Hill, speaking before Congress on important issues, when many of his peers were either too busy, too circumspect, or too shy to do so.

In fact, it is Mandel's outspokenness and his penchant for panache, not to mention his quotient for quotes, that makes his appointment all the more interesting. From what we can tell, Nielsen has plenty of smart people working for it, but they're not exactly the types to put themselves out there the way Mandel is apt to do. And for our part, we sure hope he doesn't change his M.O., er, Mandel Operandi, that is. There aren't many people who would take a stand, go out on a line and risk putting their foot in their mouth. But given the big money, high stakes and dicey issues Nielsen is confronting, we wonder if Mandel will still be able to maintain that high visibility.

One thing for sure, he doesn't lack opinions. And he doesn't lack knowledge. Mandel is genuinely, as he might say, one of the "scary smartest" guys in the media business. He understands it from all levels: the advertiser, the agency, the media, the regulator. Most important, he understands the way media markets work, and particularly the role that media ratings play in forming the currency of advertising markets.

That's powerful knowledge for a company in the midst of creating new currencies for a wide range of advertising markets - almost any that are even remotely reminiscent of its core base of television, but also moving into new geographies such as out-of-home media, and of course, the kind of integrated marketing and media measurement that VNU touted in its announcement of Mandel's appointment.

In fact, just about the only media Nielsen doesn't seem keen on dominating in the near future is print, and, according to Nielsen CEO Susan Whiting, radio. Speaking at a Reuters conference in New York on Tuesday, Whiting stated emphatically that Nielsen has no current plans to enter the radio business. Doing so would put it into direct competition with Arbitron, its periodic partner and/or competitor on a variety of media measurement fronts.

It was Nielsen that drove Arbitron out of the local TV ratings business. And it was Nielsen who put the kibosh on a plan to create a joint venture with Arbitron of a single-source TV and radio ratings service based on Arbitron's portable people meters. It's also Arbitron that Nielsen and VNU are currently partnering with on what is perhaps the most ambitious single-source marketing and media measurement system ever: Project Apollo. Let's see where that one ultimately goes.

Nielsen, meanwhile, has opened a new front in the outdoor media business, rolling out a new ratings system using high-tech GPS technology to measure when and where people are exposed to billboards. The new Nielsen Outdoor service, however, has not been sanctioned by the out-of-home media industry, which is backing its own, homegrown initiative cobbled together by the Traffic Audit Bureau. The TAB approach, in fact, is a multi-tiered system that uses different measurement and auditing techniques to provide the best components of an integrated system of media measurement. It's been championed as a model of media audience measurement not just for outdoor, but for all media. Among other things, it shifts media ratings from the "opportunity to see" that has been the basis for most media to date, to a "likelihood to see" an advertising message.

In fact, we find it interesting, and perhaps a little ironic, that it was a former colleague of Mandel's - former MediaCom research chief Tony Jarvis - who, speaking as head of Clear Channel Outdoor research, just issued a challenge to the media world at large to embrace TAB's approach.

"In discussing Out-Of-Home audience measurement I would ask you to carefully consider whether this approach now applies to all major media if they are to really deliver 21st century accountability to advertisers," Jarvis challenged last week during a speech at an AdMap conference in London. The speech was entitled, "When A Survey Is Not Enough."

We have no doubt that the outdoor media battle will be an interesting one to follow, and watching Mandel and Jarvis go head-to-head will only add to the intrigue.

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