Media executives become Jack of all trades

The role of the media buyer has massively expanded. Jane Ratcliffe says she and her colleagues have become consultants on everything from product design to npd. But where does this leave account directors? Jane Ratcliffe is business developmen

Has anyone ever asked you to be an airline pilot for the day? A bizarre request you might think, but one of many that media folk have come to expect in their everyday life (in case you’re wondering, I was asked to do the voice-over on a radio commercial for one of Mediacom’s clients). This is not as unusual as it sounds, it typifies the role of the media man or woman nowadays – an invaluable member of the team offering much more than media.

The media discipline is no longer recognisable as the job most of us joined the industry to do – it is no longer one-dimensional.

Senior positions in media today require an all-round business knowledge. A combination of strategic insight, market understanding, creativity and negotiating prowess. In some cases distribution and manufacturing knowledge are useful too. Perhaps we should rename ourselves as marketing and media consultants.

By now many of you non-media people will be jumping up and down calling me all sorts of names and asking why I take such an arrogant stance. I ask you to consider a few questions: how many of the top-ten advertising agencies have been run at some point by a media practitioner? What has changed in advertising in the past ten years, compared with what has changed in media? Have account directors had to change their role fundamentally or take on any new responsibilities?

Who do you ring when you want to design a page on your Website? In my experience it’s media. Odd when you consider that design is the domain of the creative department. So, how long before a media company decides to employ its own creatives?

My recent experience at the Marketing Forum further confirms these views. The majority of conversations I had with marketing directors and the like were nothing to do with media, but focused on issues such as distribution methods, point of sale, effectiveness of advertising (not just media), creative subjectivity, innovation in product design, direct marketing, the relative merits of full service versus virtual agencies, market research… and so on.

It was brilliant, I loved it. My belief that the media arena is one of the most exciting around today remains unchanged. It also demonstrates that clients feel comfor table talking to media people about all elements of their business.

Take media effectiveness as an example. To be able to find the answer to this requires media knowledge. However, it also requires an understanding of the market, the consumer, the competitive environment, product sales and so on. Not the everyday knowledge at the finger-tips of an Eighties media man. It also means, by implication, that we are judging advertising quality as well.

I offer this article merely as an observation, and I leave you with a few more examples of things I’ve been asked to do recently: facilitate a creative pitch, discuss new product development, design a Website, help at a trade fair, organise a corporate night out and write an advertising strategy for 1998. Now, either I’m immensely talented, or this is a real example of the changing face of multimedia companies reflecting the diverse needs of clients today. I can assure you, in my case, it is certainly the latter.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. It raises the question, what do account directors do nowadays?

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