Discordant voices stymie united front

RAB is the blueprint for a successful marketing body. But in order to follow its example, other media need to put aside their differences

There have long been rumblings in the television and national newspaper industries about the need for a marketing body to represent their sectors.

At this year’s Marketing Week TV 2002 conference, the industry was told that the setting up of a television advertising bureau (TAB) was the way to win advertisers back to the medium.

Regional press and radio both have marketing bodies, and in recent weeks the Outdoor Advertising Association (OAA) has made moves to adopt a more aggressive approach to selling the outdoor medium.

Some media companies are happy to pay a percentage of their advertising revenue to form central marketing bodies, which work for the good of the industry, but for media like TV and national newspapers – fuelled by egos and rivalry – working together may never become a reality.

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) was set up in 1992, when radio accounted for just two per cent of advertising revenue. It was formed following the Broadcasting Act in 1990, which heralded the launch of national commercial radio stations.

The then six local commercial radio groups were concerned that national stations would swallow up what revenue they attracted.

Although RAB is much admired by other media, it took three failed attempts during the Seventies and Eighties before it became a reality, headed by its current chief executive Douglas McArthur.

RAB managing director Justin Sampson believes it was such a success because it was independent from radio companies’ sales divisions.

He says: “It was a huge temptation to have RAB reporting to the sales divisions, but autonomy is crucial. RAB can’t get involved in trading issues and things like that. It reports to the chief executives.”

Since its formation, RAB has taken the initiative to talk directly to advertisers about radio advertising issues, and by introducing a myriad of initiatives it has been instrumental in tripling radio’s share of advertising revenue to 6.5 per cent. Sampson says the industry has a mission to increases its share to ten per cent by 2010, presumably at the expense of TV revenue.

Sampson can see the merits of a TAB, but believes it will not necessarily be as successful as RAB. He says: “If senior TV sales people try and take control of a TAB, it will fail. It requires them to take a step back and be open minded.”

Last week, the OAA appointed former CDP Media managing director Alan James as its chief executive.

James replaces the OAA’s outgoing chairman and former MP, Matthew Carrington, who is leaving to become the chief executive of the Retail Motor Industry Federation.

James’ appointment marks a change for the OAA. The organisation hopes that it can draw on RAB’s example and increases its share of revenue from eight per cent to ten per cent by the next outdoor advertising industry conference, scheduled to take place in 2004.

Maiden Outdoor managing director David Pugh – the OAA’s new part-time, non-executive chairman – says James appointment marks the OAA’s move away from a defensive posture.

While radio companies and outdoor companies seem to have worked hard at pulling together, national newspaper groups still lack a central marketing body.

The Telegraph Group’s display advertising director Chris White-Smith is calling for a central marketing body, even though he believes the task will be difficult. He says: “The problem we have is that we are busy ripping each others’ throats out most of the time. We have to bury our differences and try to target our objectives to take one per cent of TV advertising revenue. Just this small percentage would mean about &£150m in extra revenue.”

White-Smith’s call for a central marketing body is on the agenda at the Newspaper Publisher’s Association (NPA) sponsored Marketing Week Press Advertising Summit on April 22 and 23.

However, the NPA – an existing trade body for national newspapers – does not promote the medium for advertising.

MediaCom director Steve Goodman claims that his company and other media agencies would fully back a RAB-style central marketing body for newspaper groups. He says: “I would like to see it happen, we all admire RAB.”

The conference will mark the first time in more than ten years that leading figures from national newspaper groups have been prepared to sit down and discuss issues facing the medium. Although the groups are not quite showing a united front, the signs of movement are there.

While the national newspaper groups are unable to create a united front, local and regional newspapers have the Newspaper Society, which was founded in 1836. The group represents the combined interests of more than 1,300 regional and local newspapers.

Headed by marketing director David Hoath, its marketing division is split in two. Its advertising affairs team aims to raise awareness of the regional press as an advertising medium and boost the industry’s share of national and local advertising. Its commercial affairs team is responsible for organising the society’s range of conferences, seminars and events.

While it is paramount for the commercial TV industry to arrest the decline in its market share, the creation of a TAB seems unlikely. Not only do its critics claim that egos in the TV market make such a proposal almost impossible, ITV’s share of revenue would make such an organisation unbalanced.

Whatever strategy TV and newspaper groups propose to promote advertising revenue, it is a fact that other media, which have succeeded with an industry marketing initiative, have only done so through burying internal differences.

Piers Morgan will be headline speaker at Marketing Week’s Press Advertising Summit, which takes place at the Café Royal on April 22 and April 23. For more information contact Rosie Nottage on (0207) 970 4747.

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