Time for marketers to boost media know-how

In spite of increasing work pressures, modern marketers should take the trouble to study and understand media; the rewards in time and budget savings could be immeasurable, says David Pugh. David Pugh is commercial director of Mills & Allen

Marketing directors are finding themselves trapped in a vicious circle. On the one hand it is more and more difficult to keep abreast of all the changes in the media world, on the other hand the average marketer has less and less time to devote to the subject. These two pressures are pulling in opposite directions – while marketing departments are being compelled to improve on cost efficiency, the media choice continues to grow.

There is no getting away from it, marketing departments and advertising agencies are under growing pressure. Media might only be one part of a marketer’s brief – along with product, pricing, distribution and sales support – but it still accounts for a large slice of the marketing budget. I estimate that when I was marketing director of The Telegraph I spent only 20 per cent of my time on advertising and promotion, although it accounted for some 85 per cent of my budget. At the same time, advertising agencies, increasingly working under the tightest of budget constraints, find their resources pushed to the absolute limits.

Media, meanwhile, continues to grow and fragment, with a plethora of new TV and radio stations becoming established over the past five years. And as the Internet fights to establish itself as a serious media choice, more traditional options such as magazines, direct sales and sales promotion continue to grow and demand their share of the advertising budget.

I could be accused of pure hypocrisy in what I am about to advocate, because when I was a marketing director I didn’t make the time to see as many media owners as I should have done. Instead, I largely confined myself to listening to the ideas of my advertising agencies. It seemed simply too exhausting a prospect to then meet up with media owners and listen to all their ideas as well. Only now do I realise that to get the best from my marketing budget, I should have opened my door to more media owners and listened directly to their ideas about how I might have made my budget work harder.

This has nothing to do with checking up on my agencies. While I would have continued to refer many media owner calls to the relevant person at my agency, I should also have made more time to listen to some of them myself. Agencies are a useful filter for marketers, but they too are under a lot of pressure and the search for a “different advantage” or “edge” – the holy grail of marketing – could perhaps have been achieved by speaking to media owners directly. After all, I never did find out about the kind of ideas that could have come out of a face-to-face meeting.

Such a discussion doesn’t need to take up much time, or be too intrusive (one marketing director I know sets aside a half-hour slot each week). In fact, Mills & Allen runs a one-day course on the poster medium called “a day in the life of outdoor” designed specifically for clients and agencies. Other media owners run similar events. In the poster industry, clients would also benefit from spending more time with poster specialists as an excellent way of getting an impartial briefing on a fast-changing industry.

Whatever you, as a marketer, decide, some things are certain: media will continue to change and grow; the choices will become more complex; and the price of reaching your audience will certainly not go down. Marketers should not allow themselves to become too detached from the media choices that are so vital to their brands.

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