The demise after three years of SMG Access, Scottish Media Group’s cross-platform sales team (MW last week), seems to go against the current tide. There is little doubt among media owners and agencies that cross-platform selling is not only common sense, but that the need for creative ideas that can work across a diverse portfolio of interests is becoming increasingly important as the media continues to fragment.
Yet industry observers point out that the key to making the model work is having strong brands across a portfolio of complementary platforms. Critics of SMG Access say that its portfolio of Virgin Radio, cinema advertiser Pearl & Dean, outdoor company Primesite and its Scottish TV interests were too disparate to offer advertisers a true cross-platform sell.
Vizeum managing partner Stuart Newman says: “SMG Access was an interesting concept but it was a jigsaw of brands and it didn’t work well. It had geographical difficulties and as such the companies under that banner were not a natural fit.”
The team – launched by Kathryn Jacob, now chief executive of Pearl & Dean – signed a &£1m deal which used all of the SMG assets in 2004 but failed to repeat the success, despite signing deals with Texaco and Red Bull.
Mike Hope Milne, acting managing director of SMG Access, who is now moving to Pearl & Dean, admits that the initiative did face limitations but says it had a “catalytic effect” on the business. He adds: “We realised that as the market is moving towards cross-platform sales, it is also moving beyond company boundaries. To get over our portfolio issues, we started building third-party relationships.”
This is similar to the model used by RSVP, an alliance of Capital Radio Group (now GCap Media), IPC Ignite! and Viacom, launched by Hope Milne during his time at Capital. It is also how the devolved team will now operate, with Virgin Radio working closely with News Group, Pearl & Dean and Primesite teaming up with Metro. It also has relationships with publishers such as Dennis Publishing and Hachette.
Carrie Barker, head of EMAP’s cross-platform division EMAP<sup>2</sup>, agrees that cross-platform sales is maturing and no longer about just trying to sell a package to a client. She says: “It used to be about just selling more than one platform but now it is about working with agencies and clients to develop a creative idea.” Barker adds that the group, which spans radio, TV and online, recently completed a radio-only deal, but felt it was too small for EMAP – so it brought in commercial radio rival GCap. She says: “We work the other way round now, it is about solving briefs for clients and developing a strategic relationship rather than just selling.”
But industry observers point out that it has taken media owners with cross-platform sales teams a couple of years to realise that their raison d’Ãªtre is not about forcing advertisers to use platforms that do not suit the brand. Newman says: “The system has to be flexible to ensure that the right media are doing the right task.”
Newman believes that BSkyB and ITV are the next big media owners looking to exploit cross-media deals as both have a range of new interactive and online interests to incorporate in their sales packages. Sky is understood to be considering opportunities such as delivering specific ads only to selected demographic groups through its TV channels and online interests such as social networking phenomenon MySpace.com.
There are fears that companies with the muscle of Sky may drag cross-platform ventures back to the bad old days of forcing clients to buy advertising packages. But the clearest sign that media owners are taking creativity and strategic planning seriously are their moves to bring in talented planners with a media agency background to head teams. A sign, perhaps, that they realise sensitivity to client needs is key to making cross-platform sales work effectively.