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A view from the other side

31 May 2016  |  Bob Wootton 
A view from the other side

Rebates, a coup, grumpy publishers, vibrating shoes and an unholy mess: Bob Wootton digests a busy month in media

So much going on right now, it's a wonder anyone in charge has any time to actually do 'the work'...

...a major 'boardroom coup' at the Scott Trust that funds the Guardian, with veteran editor Alan Rusbridger manoeuvred out by his successor Katherine Viner and the current CEO David Pemsel. Quite a coup for ISBA to have Viner speaking at their Annual Lunch on 5 July, then.

...political correctness gone crazy, almost every other news piece seemingly referring to gender or inclusiveness. The mighty WPP is subject to a lawsuit from its director of comms in New York - which it's of course seeking to strike out.

...the US advertisers' investigation into agency rebate practices still hasn't laid its egg. Time has marched on as hard facts have been slow to emerge so we could see disappointment dressed up with facesaving.

However, others say outputs are imminent and that some are bracing themselves and even briefing lawyers. Either way, the cost is well into six figures and if lawyers are indeed briefed this will quickly rise to millions - though still trifling against the billion dollar stakes.

We should take keen note. The UK differs on principality (it rests with the client in the US and much is being already made of this pre-emptively to cushion any uncomfortable findings), but we share a language and are the other global net exporter of talent and practice. And we also have some 'trust 'issues' of our own...

...a recent Mediatel/Trinity Mirror event surfaced some frustration with a lack of press data relevant to planning, budgets and long-term brand-building. Having been on all the industry's audience currency bodies over a long time, I've mixed views.

The definition of 'readership' has always been pretty loose, tending to overstate the figures. (Circulation figures don't lie as they're based on audits of publishers' books).

But I still don't feel readership research is notably inferior compared to other media. And judging by the continuing deluge of issues in the space, it's probably better than current online research.

I do however take some issue with publisher bodies, their members grumpy from having their lunches snatched from them, driving 'strategic' reviews of their currencies.

Thus the demise of the National Readership Survey and the establishment of the Publishers' Audience Measurement Company whose methodology was piloted in early 2016.

This being successful, the plan is to commence data collection in H2 '16 and begin to publish results in Q4. These will be mixed with legacy NRS data each quarter until the figures become entirely PAMCO by late 2017.

Word on progress is expected imminently, any delay signalling that the timetable is already slipping.

Meanwhile, a similar independent publisher-precipitated review is also ongoing at circulation body ABC, itself under interim leadership and shortly to seek a new chairman as the end of incumbent Sally Cartwright's already-extended second term approaches.

It's the fourth such review in recent years, so all eyes on whether it can surface conclusions which ABC's members are prepared to action.

And all this going on at a time when it could be argued continuity and stability are needed.

Pathfinder

Elsewhere, the spat between telly and streamed video has abated for now, but has thankfully served to remind us there's a lot of life in our old dogs yet and that the new channels still have much to prove. Mind you, they've got deep pockets filled with all the money that's been spent online without quite knowing why.

A recent Propeller reception at Google heard the UK is their 'pathfinder' market, with more than half of all adspend now digital and the national ecommerce surplus greater than the US, France and Germany combined. Hopefully the Ad Association is sticking this to Chancellor Osborne and pals.

Lots of interesting stuff emerging between mobile and TV right now, with several convergent 'forced search' offerings vying for advertiser attention. Screen size dogs mobile as a display medium so we should welcome anything that can further enhance its topical relevance.

easyJet joined the frothstream with the purported launch of 'Sneakairs' - smart footwear for in-flight purchase that vibrates to help wearers navigate. In house orange, of course. I know we're all in retail and sales these days, but frankly, I'd stick to delighting with comfortable, efficient, low-cost flights.

And most industry gatherings seem to be concluding that there's now too much data, but far too few people capable of making any sense of it. Sounds like a great opportunity for humans amidst all the scares of automated job losses and Kurtzweill's singularity, 2026 being only 10 years away...

An unholy mess

Something I've noticed now I'm on 'the other side' is that everybody's looking for a cut. As an independent pluralist I too can now only eat what I kill, but I've been struck by just how many are seeking to make from their clients and their suppliers, sometimes in full view, or even worse with the complicity, of their clients.

Unless the serious clients take things back into their own hands and insist that they are the only source of revenue - and pay properly for it - things will continue to be an unholy mess. I can see some marketers grasping this, but I'm less confident about most purchasing officers who simply don't - or sometimes prefer not to - understand the issues.

Keen readers will know that I'm not adverse to a drink or two in the line of duty. Hell, the current Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport has publicly complimented me to this effect.

So I heartily agree with my fellow Mediatel columnist Dominic Mills' suggestion that clients and agencies might do well spend some quality time together over a glass away from their desks.

But such is the increasingly dry, US-driven, performance metric-based and PC world we now live in that I doubt with great regret that it's going to happen. Anthony Hilton's excellent recent piece in the Evening Standard resonated with me in this vein too.

Head vs. heart

By my next column we'll have decided whether or not to remain in the European Union.

Big business is clear, favouring remain by more than 4:1. But they don't vote and their current standing amongst the general population means that they might not have the influence they crave.

The constant peddling of fear and selective 'facts' has disenfranchised many voters. Polls show that much of the electorate's 1m female majority hasn't made its mind up and is similarly unimpressed.

For me it's a head vs. heart issue. I see a clear choice between the certainty of something my heart doesn't want - remaining in an unelected, bureaucratic blob which constrains and intervenes excessively - and my head's uncertainty as to what leaving might mean.

I predict that we'll vote to remain by a slim margin as the courage to vote 'leave' will desert many waverers when actually confronted with the ballot paper.

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13 Dec 2019 

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