MEDIA BRANDS: While ad execs tremble in face of technology, PR pros could see this as a brave new world

On a rainy morning in New York late last month, a collection of advertising and TV executives and other media types descended on a conference room in the Conde Nast building for a discussion on the future of advertising. They dined on fruit and yogurt, coffee and juice, but the special that day was fear - specifically, fear of a future in which their business model is likely to be outmoded by technological advancement.

On a rainy morning in New York late last month, a collection of advertising and TV executives and other media types descended on a conference room in the Conde Nast building for a discussion on the future of advertising. They dined on fruit and yogurt, coffee and juice, but the special that day was fear - specifically, fear of a future in which their business model is likely to be outmoded by technological advancement.

The culprit in all this is TiVo, the best-known brand of the digital-video-recording technology that allows audiences to skip commercials when playing back their programs - developments that have sent shock waves through the industry. Each of the three panelists called upon to discuss the issue displayed different levels of concern, depending on where they stand in the advertising food chain. Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of The WB Television Network, at times took on an apocalyptic tone, warning that TiVo and imitators could mean free TV's demise. Shelly Lazarus, the chairman and CEO of the advertising powerhouse Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, was pragmatic, taking a bit of solace in the fact that, at the very least, the problem is clearly defined. The third panelist was the coolest, likely because, though he oversees brand advertising for a $20 billion unit of a multinational corporation, he has a PR background. Jack Bergen, Siemens' SVP of corporate affairs and marketing, has a more flexible attitude toward this particular marketing dilemma, best demonstrated in a response to one question posed to the panel. "If you lose television," asked The New Yorker's Ken Auletta, the moderator, "can you introduce a product as effectively as you can now?" For Lazarus, the answer was clear: Losing creative TV spots would be the disappearance of the most dramatic way of pushing products. Bergen, a former CBS executive, disagreed. "You need TV to launch a product, but you don't need paid TV to launch a product," he said. He was specifically alluding to PR stunts that get the attention of TV news cameras. More importantly, the comment brought a broader vision into what, as far as marketing approaches go, had been a very narrow conversation focused on a single way of thinking. Basically, it brought PR into a discussion about advertising. And it dropped like a rock. Afterwards, Bergen explained why, in a roomful of folks whose very livelihoods are in peril, no one took up his point. "That room was filled with media and advertising types, who are traditionalists and conservative by nature," he said, going on to describe the ways he saved his company millions of dollars by dumping ads for PR and corporate sponsorships while getting the same audience reach. "Like the railroads, the advertisers are still going to have their firemen when there's no coal to stoke because they've got diesel engines," he said. "Pretty soon, there aren't going to be any more riders." -matthew.creamer@prweek.com

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