For television to engage it must start to take action

Marketing Week‘s TV 2004 conference showed broad support for TV to be marketed generically, but this unity must be acted upon, says Torin Douglas

The stated theme of Marketing Week‘s TV 2004 conference was “Where next for engaging TV?” The real theme, unstated, seemed to be “Where next for engaging about TV?”

Where can advertisers, agencies, broadcasters and other interested parties discuss the strengths and weaknesses of television and the way it is marketed and traded? Where can they air their grievances without coming to blows or having it plastered all over the marketing press? And where can they come together to lobby government and regulators about the changes they want in the rules governing television advertising in the digital age?

The answer is not yet clear, but it’s unlikely to be a hotel basement in Victoria again.

From the dinner entertainer Jack Dee to the former Carlton Sales boss Martin Bowley, speakers queued up to contrast the difference in ambience between this year’s conference location and those of its predecessors – Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Bath. What, they suggested, did the venue say about the state of the business?

What it actually said was that most of the 50 companies researched for this year’s conference chose London as their preferred location.

What it also said was that the TV companies hadn’t got their act together early enough to have a fundamental influence on the form and venue of TV 2004. That is understandable – they’ve had a lot else on their mind. But to give them credit, when they did decide to support it, they backed it wholeheartedly.

All the major TV broadcasters were there, as they were at TV United last year in Bath – a real breakthrough on previous years, when Channel 4 and BSkyB played no part in proceedings. It is easy to underestimate just how significant that is, when advertisers are bemoaning the companies’ lack of progress towards a Television Advertising Bureau.

Think how long it took the national newspapers to set up the Newspaper Marketing Agency. And though the Radio Advertising Bureau is rightly trumpeted as the model other media should aspire to, think how long it took before the radio industry got that right.

Even so, the frustration of advertisers at being unable to communicate with the TV business as a whole came through loud and clear in the keynote speech of Toyota GB commercial director Paul Philpott, who’d flown in from Tokyo the night before to be there. Philpott lambasted the lack of progress in marketing the TV medium since the Bath conference.

“Twelve months on and nothing has changed,” he said. “No TV consortium. No joint marketing initiative and no generic promotion of TV.”

He did however welcome the companies’ move to conduct research into how advertisers and agencies would like to see the medium marketed. Andy Tilley of the Ingram Partnership revealed the early findings of that research – which illuminated the discussion by showing just how many different views there are.

Not everyone wants a TV Advertising Bureau. One client felt that if it did its job properly, it would increase demand for the medium, thus putting up the price (though as one speaker pointed out, the cost of TV advertising is still what it was in John Major’s time). Other respondents had various and differing priorities.

Some wanted a resource that could offer research and advice, others a website from which they could download case histories demonstrating the effectiveness of TV. Some wanted a body that could help them deal with getting commercials through the BACC clearance system. Others wanted help with new technology. Others wanted to be inspired about what most acknowledged was still the most powerful advertising medium.

Billetts chairman John Billett, who’d flown in from New York, picked up Paul Philpott’s plea for a relaxation of the regulations on advertiser-funded programming, saying this was another reason television companies needed a coherent voice – not just to market the medium, but to lobby government and regulators.

For many people, it sounded as though the Ingram research sessions were a form of therapy, with 45-minute interviews extending to an hour as clients and agencies got their frustrations off their chest. Sadly, very few were as vocal in the open forum of the conference, where only a handful of advertisers and just one media agency stuck their head above the parapet to question the massed ranks of TV sales directors.

Despite that, there was plenty of other discussion and debate – and plenty of marketing of television in the form of case histories and new research into the effectiveness of the medium. Had that been presented and paid for by the Radio Advertising Bureau everyone would have been full of praise.

As it is, the Ingram research will at least clarify what it is that most advertisers want from the TV companies. Another 12 months on, hopefully more will have changed.

Torin Douglas is media correspondent for BBC News

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