These are some of the adjectives used by our panel to describe Hugh Dow, president of M2 Universal, head of the Canadian Media Directors’ Council committee, and winner of Strategy’s Best Media Director competition for the second year in a row.
Media sales execs noted that as well as developing close relationships with sellers, Dow has gone beyond understanding the nuts and bolts of individual media to grasp the big picture. Not only where Canadian media is today, but where it’s headed in the future.
To celebrate Dow’s win, we asked him to share some of this understanding in his own words.
This coming year will mark my 42nd in the media business. For those of you trying to figure that out, it means I started work in England as a very green, naive 18-year-old.
I have always believed that media was the place to work. Never have I felt surer of that than during 2001.
Hardly a day goes by without something of great media significance taking place. Never have good media people been in such demand, never have the career opportunities been better. The challenges and issues that face media planners and buyers today are complex and ever-changing. But nothing beats the sheer satisfaction of working through them all and delivering a media product that is innovative, impactful and above all, provides our clients with a distinct competitive edge.
As far back as I can remember, fragmentation has been a major issue for planners and buyers alike. I suspect that will always be the case.
Fragmentation generates choice. Choice results in consumers selecting communication channels that are relevant to them and that address their specific needs and requirements. This provides us with the opportunity to present our messages in a more conducive and receptive environment. With our increased ability to define targets and segment consumers, our responsibility as planners and buyers is to exploit fragmentation and minimize message waste.
The downside to fragmentation is the need to assemble an increasing number of communication units to create an overall campaign or program. This presents considerable administrative challenges to both the buyer and the seller. I suspect we are approaching a scenario where the cost of processing a transaction could well exceed the actual cost of the purchase. Look, for example, at purchasing a unit on one of the new digital cable channels.
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) offers a solution, but to date media owners generally appear to be disinterested. This must change before the system crashes
Where will fragmentation end? Well if the system doesn’t crash first, normal market forces will determine a natural limit to fragmentation. When channels become unprofitable to their owners they will eventually disappear. We have not reached that stage yet, but the limit will certainly be tested by the new digital cable networks. There will undoubtedly be casualties once audience numbers are known.
On top of the mounting administrative challenges created by fragmentation, we must also contend with the ever-increasing amounts of audience-related data and product purchase information. This is costly to purchase, process and analyze. On top of this, many players, including M2 Universal, are investing in proprietary research to complement syndicated data.
Information overload is a fact of life, but it also represents an incredible opportunity to develop a competitive edge for planners, buyers and their clients. As an ex-media researcher, I remain convinced that research is the key to unlocking those critical revealing insights about consumers’ behaviour and their relationship with the communication channels they come in contact with.
Recently the subject of information overload has taken on special significance with a proposal by the Canadian Media Directors’ Council to consolidate product media data in Canada. This initiative will remove costly information duplication that’s creeping into our business via the uncoordinated efforts of various audience measurement organizations.
The CMDC proposal will result in one industry-accepted source of product media data and introduce consistent demographic reporting breaks across the various measurement organizations. This initiative will be a top priority for both the CMDC and myself for 2002.
The whole subject of convergence has occupied an enormous amount of our time at M2 Universal during 2001. We have learned a great deal about the realities and the opportunities of convergence from an advertising perspective. We have emerged as strong proponents, having executed one major program, with others in the pipeline. Properly thought out and executed, a convergence program can be an extremely powerful communication tool.
Perhaps our biggest learning has been the fact that convergence pushes the media function to the very front of the advertising process. The creative component must be developed to suit the selected channel mix instead of the reverse, which historically has tended to be the case.
Yet another interesting dimension of convergence is the concept of "repurposing," where media owners extend what used to be single channel content, such as a TV program, across multiple media platforms. These platforms can then be used for cross-promotion or even sampling purposes. A good example here in Canada is CBC’s plans to establish Hockey Night in Canada as a definitive brand with carefully orchestrated extensions across a variety of communication channels.
It can be argued that repurposing will become a very necessary strategy for those media owners faced with declining revenue scenarios in their conventional channels, such as network television. In fact, perhaps repurposing should have been used as a rationale for the recent spate of acquisitions, rather than the promise of multi-media advertising sales.
As always, our business and our industry will continue to evolve and change almost on a daily basis. There will be new challenges to address, new territories to explore. There will be surprises (pleasant and unpleasant), frustration and disappointments.
One thing we can count on and we can be absolutely sure of: it will never be dull.