Media Shops Hop Over Comcast Chief's Trade Show Stop

The buzz was palpable as agency execs began arriving in Orlando Wednesday in preparation for today's opening session of the American Association of Advertising Agencies Media Conference and Trade Show, but the talk wasn't about the conference's agenda per se. The agenda, which will cover some incredibly important ground - ranging from new guidelines for conducting media audits, the state of media verification systems to the grasp media shops have (or don't) on consumer views about media - threatened to be overshadowed by a keynote from one of this morning's speakers who has suddenly taken center stage for the entire media world: Comcast CEO and Walt Disney Co. suitor Brian Roberts.

"The Comcast/Disney shocker has been met, with, well, shock," said Thomas Seibert, vice president-corporate communications at MPG, and a former trade reporter who has covered his share of industry shockers. "People aren't really talking about it like a deal so much as an earthshaking development. Nobody can believe it really."



But if seeing is believing, the AAAA crowd will have an exclusive audience with Roberts, whose appearance in Orlando is timed ironically with a Disney shareholder's meeting across town at the Magic Kingdom.

Talk about tough acts to lead up to. But that's what AAAA Media Policy Committee Chair and Starcom North America CEO Renetta McCann will have to do when she opens this morning's conference with a keynote containing some industry shockers of her own.

Among other things, McCann will unveil steps being taken by media agencies to take some control over the media auditing revolution that has been threatening to drive a wedge between media shops and their clients. She also will also update the progress the AAAA has made on the subject of media buying verification, and while she won't mention this part explicitly, she told MediaDailyNews in an exclusive pre-conference interview that the trade group has quietly scrapped plans to conduct its own industry-wide audit to benchmark the veracity of media buys.

"We have decided it was not appropriate for an organization like ours to do that," McCann said of the media audit, which she unveiled plans for at last year's media conference in New Orleans. Among other things, she said it was difficult to come up with a plan that would have been able to collect a wide cross-section of confidential media buying data from competing clients and ensure their confidentiality and security.

"We found out, that we as a group aren't the best ones to do it. We can't fund it. We don't have the dollars. It would have required us to audit our clients' books and we're not structured for that," she said.

"In the end, we decided this is something that would be better for others to do," said McCann, referring to the role of electronic verification services like Audio Audit and Verance, as well as the burgeoning cottage industry of media auditors that have begun working directly with advertisers to verify, validate and gauge the performance of their agencies' media service.

Toward that end, McCann today will unveil plans for a set of industry guidelines for conducting audits, including who is responsible for what, how agencies should work with their clients and their third-party auditors during the process.

"It's not the same business that I started in 20 years ago," she said. "With the emergence of auditing firms and the auditing practice, and the involvement of corporate procurement departments, we have to find better ways of being accountable to our clients and providing them with the reporting they need to be accountable to their stakeholders," explained McCann.

While specific guidelines have not yet been ratified, McCann said the AAAA committee has opened a direct dialogue with the ANA on the matter and expects to have preliminary recommendations soon.

Another key element of this year's conference will be the industry's focus on media end-users, consumers. In fact, the AAAA commissioned consumer research firm Yankelovich to survey consumers on their perceptions about media and compare them with the views of agency media professionals. Those findings will be revealed during one of this morning's panel discussions. MEDIA Magazine, an offline sibling publication of MediaDailyNews conducted a similar survey with InsightExpress in November that was the subject of its December cover story. That survey found some profound disconnects between the views of consumers and media pros on some aspects of media and advertising.

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