PAMCo delivers its "landmark moment"
In any rational world, there should now be a renaissance in sophisticated media planning thanks to the new Audience Measurement for Publishers, writes Raymond Snoddy
With most things it’s all about timing. For three years information technocrats in the engine room of the media and advertising industries have been beavering away to produce a single, trusted, audience measure for readership across print and all electronic devices.
You could easily get grumpy and say what’s the big deal. Wasn’t it startlingly obvious that such a thing was necessary in the digital age?
As Paul Bainsfair, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising put it in welcoming the new PAMCo Audience Measurement for Publishers, such a thing has been “top of our wish list for many years.”
As a cynical journalist noted 18 months ago, the UK would probably take less time to get out of the EU than publishers to produce their new currency.
In fact the publishers made it first by a long way, and it would be unfair to underestimate both the complexity of getting the data right and the even greater difficulty of persuading the entire British publishing industry to do what they knew they had to do - and then pay for it.
A hard coming they had of it, but they have burst out into a transformed media landscape. When the work began, Facebook was being lauded as the advertising medium of the year.
It now comes to fruition in the time of Cambridge Analytica, and Mark Zuckerberg being hauled before both houses of the US Congress, leaving a trail of fake news, and threats to privacy and brand safety in his wake - and with regulation, or worse, to follow.
The sudden midnight departure of Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP was surely another almost biblical portent of change to come.
Details for no less than 99 publications were published this week and the headlines for the overall audience of publishers, unduplicated across all devices, are dramatic.
The total monthly market reach across all adults is around 90 per cent and the biggest individual contributor is still print ahead of combined phone and tablet.
Perhaps more surprisingly - at least compared with conventional wisdom - the percentage for 15-34-year-olds is even higher, although understandably phone and desktop beat print - but not by as much as you might expect.
It's been a long time coming but for Aviva's Jan Gooding, who chairs PAMCo, it is “a landmark moment.”
Despite all the chatter about brand safety, fake news and the need for transparency, until PAMCo replaced NRS the numbers have simply not been adequate.
As a result, in any rational world, there should be a renaissance in sophisticated planning rather than mere trading and the pressing of the social media digital default button.
There should be a “resetting” of the dial as it is now being described, as opposed to the old fashioned swing of the pendulum back in the direction of the established or “proven” media.
There should be but will it actually happen?
That has been the big question lingering over PAMCo since its birth. Everyone agrees that it is essential and everybody wants the new PAMCo figures, which those responsible believe is not only world class, but also the first medium in the UK to offer reliable data across all devices.
It is also a potentially potent weapon in the newly engaged battle against short-termism in the debate over how best to protect and promote brands.
Somehow over the last decade, the short-term ousted long-term brand-building, just as planning was undermined by trading.
The arrival of the PAMCo currency may just turn out to be a significant turning point and if the agencies do not respond, and it would be bizarre if they didn’t, then the marketing directors who pay the bills will have to take action if they can win their own battles with the procurement officers.
And then there is the coincidence of the timing of Sir Martin’s departure.
His approach was understandable if a little unfortunate. In conference after conference he was happy to acknowledge that the pendulum had indeed probably swung too far in favour of digital and against the established media, including newspapers. He also took to complaining in public about the lack of transparency of digital and the social media, the ads that were seen by robots rather than human beings and the time spent actually reading newspapers compared with the seconds of dwell-time on online ads with the sound turned off.
And still his WPP companies continued to pour billions into the coffers of Silicon Valley.
While he ruled the finances of WPP with an iron grip, Sir Martin did not see it as his role to cross over into the “editorial” domain and interfere with how his myriad of interlocking agencies placed client’s money.
Now that he is gone will any of this change during the interregnum or following the appointment of his successor?
Will there be a more interventionist approach in favour of where both numbers and logic suggest more money should go?
Obviously it depends on who gets the rather unenviable task of taking over the idiosyncratic structure that Sir Martin created over 33 years.
But when the question was put to Tom George, chief executive of WPP’s Group M, this week he at least came out with (an albeit hesitant) verdict of “possibly.”
Many others have already written what reads like the business “obituary” of Sir Martin Sorrell. Yet given that there are apparently no non-compete clauses in his departure package, which is being treated as a retirement, perhaps the obituaries are a tad premature.
If Sir Martin wants to do a Frank Sinatra and come out of business retirement for one last tour round the track, then there is one difficult thing to do, which would ultimately be in his own self-interest: ask for the publication of the independent investigation into his behaviour.
While it remains unpublished there will always be a stain on his business reputation - possibly one driven by speculation and rumour that is even worse than the reality, and equally possibly one that is unwarranted.
Sir Martin Sorrell has always been open. It would be best if he was open this last time and then he could apologise, if there is anything to apologise for, and if not, get on with his business life.
As for the new de-duplicated media currency, Simon Redican, chief executive of PAMCo, has suggested (tongue-in-cheek) that rather like Facebook three years ago the PAMCo measurement should be chosen as the advertising medium of the year.
This is hardly likely to happen. No-one rushes out into the street in praise of the work of JICs.
It could, however, turn out to be a very significant development in strengthening the financial foundations of the established media, and the contribution of the media to democracy and society itself.