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New Channels of Communication

Jul 7, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Barely a week goes by that some big media shop doesn’t introduce a new function or department with a goal of transforming media planning and buying. And while one of the newest such titles-channel account planner-may sound like a very traditional media job and one that keeps television at the heart of the media planning process, it may prove to be anything but that if a new team at Universal McCann has its way.
In the context of that title, the term “channel” “may have nothing to do with traditional advertising, much less television,” said M.T. Carney, who has just signed on as senior VP, channel account planner, in UM’s communications architecture group.
The “channel” in Ms. Carney’s title refers as much to the role of direct marketing, sales promotion, public relations and other forms of marketing communications as it does to traditional advertising. The media-or what the group calls “platforms”-that are used to convey those marketing campaigns may include television but could just as easily involve other media.
“The point is that a medium is anything that touches a consumer,” said Marston Allen, senior VP, director of communications architecture, and Ms. Carney’s partner in the group. Whereas Mr. Allen plays a strategic role on the team, coming up with a vision for using various media platforms, Ms. Carney’s role is similar to what an account planner might do at a traditional brand agency. But instead of being an expert on consumer relationships with a brand, Ms. Carney focuses on consumer relationships with various media.
`36-Degree Planning’
“A lot of people use the term `360-degree media planning,”’ Mr. Allen said. “We think that’s bollocks. For us, it’s more like 36 degrees. It’s about finding and understanding those points when a consumer is open to a commercial message. Certain people will close the door to you and not allow you to communicate commercially in certain plans at certain times.”
Conceptually, that approach sounds very much like the “personal media mapping” approach developed years ago by DDB Needham and its sister media agency Optimum Media, which seeks to find the “aperture,” or media moment when a consumer is most receptive to a commercial message. But instead of simply looking at such opportunities as openings for advertising, the UM unit is sizing them up for other forms of marketing. That may mean ads from Interpublic sister ad agency McCann-Erickson or a direct-response effort from sister shop Draft Worldwide.
Doing the Research
The team works closely with the traditional media research and the media futures group at UM and bases much of its insights about how consumers use media on UM’s Media In Mind research, a series of consumer surveys conducted by Interpublic’s NFO Research unit. Based on these studies, the group develops conceptual consumer targets that may have little to do with the traditional demographic targets used to buy and sell most media.
“It’s not just about who uses media and what kind of media they use, but when, where and why they use the media,” explained Mr. Allen. For example, he said, the Media in Mind research shows there may be “three to four different ways people watch television.”
“They may be watching the same shows, but there’s a big difference between how an 18- to 20-year-old watches something and the way a woman of 49 with two kids watches it. Our role is understanding that difference,” he said. As a result, the unit has come up with customized descriptors for media targets based on its clients’ brands.
In one example the team identified a group of consumers-generally hard-working business professionals-who are defined as “wishful weekenders” and ideal targets for one of its hotel chain clients. While much of this research is deemed proprietary for competitive reasons, the group did share the case study of a former client, SmithKline Beecham, with TelevisionWeek.
In this effort for prescription anti-depressive drug Paxil, the UM unit identified an ailment-social anxiety disorder-and a media strategy for reaching its sufferers. The group, which fears social contact, represents 7 percent of the U.S. population. As a surrogate for interpersonal contact, these people tend to seek out media that provide social surrogates, such as talk shows, soap operas and series with aspirational characters. They also tend to be heavy users of home-shopping services and tend to be people who write or phone newspaper editors or TV news producers.
Based on this information, UM came up with a multimedia direct-response campaign using TV, magazines and the Internet that generated 200 calls with its first commercial airing and a 0.4 percent increase in Paxil’s market share during the first four weeks of the campaign.
The example showed that TV isn’t necessarily on the losing end of communications planning groups, but Mr. Allen said it must work harder to prove its worth in the mix. “TV definitely has the most to lose in the mix, because it currently represents most of the spending and most people think of it as representing most of the waste,” he said.
“Our job is to not get rid of TV, but to figure out how to use it better,” Ms. Carney added.
Joe Mandese is a longtime editor and writer following the advertising business. He is a former media editor of Advertising Age and a former senior editor of Marketing and Media Decisions.