Goodbye media trading: hello earned, shared, owned

It was ironic that the global CEO of WPP's giant GroupM media trading arm suggested Google and Facebook would be here today, gone tomorrow on the same day the search behemoth reported it was going "gangbusters" in its Q3 financial results.

It was ironic that the global CEO of WPP's giant GroupM media trading arm suggested Google and Facebook would be here today, gone tomorrow on the same day the search behemoth reported it was going “gangbusters” in its Q3 financial results.

At a GroupM conference, Irwin Gotlieb said people shouldn't get too obsessed with the current darlings of the new media world, because they will go the way of previous dotcom bellwethers such as CompuServe and AOL.

Gotlieb is one of the most powerful and respected men in advertising, often dubbed the "King of Madison Avenue", but I have to disagree with him on this one. And I think his views reflect the fundamental investment his firm has in a media status quo.

GroupM has traditionally made its money negotiating deals with media owners on behalf of clients and pocketing a certain percentage on top. The more client money it trades, the better the deals it gets - and the higher its commissions. It is also a massive facilitator of ad spend through Google by the way, even though the search giant does its level best to deal directly with clients wherever possible.

But it's a pure media trading model and it starts to look anachronistic in a world where social media has come to prominence and earned, shared, and owned media are taking on just as much importance as paid-for media.

Google and Facebook have completely changed the world of media and, unlike Gotlieb, I believe they are around for the long haul. They have successfully integrated themselves in people's lives in a much deeper and larger-scale way than even the likes of AOL and Yahoo did in their heyday.

Gotlieb's boss, WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, recently expressed concern that social networks such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter were not the place for commercial advertising, and he may well be right. (As a side issue, I predict the search giant will can Google+ within 12 months. There is only room in people's lives for so many social networks and utilities, and this is a step too far for most users.)

The problem for Gotlieb and Sorrell is that their marketing services empire relies to a large extent on the traditional activities of creating engaging advertising - on TV, in print, or online - and placing those ads in the most effective places while cutting a lucrative deal for the client and middle-man agency concerned. It is ingrained in the very fabric and culture of these businesses – and it is hard to change.

They have scores of highly resourced and expensively peopled agencies whose success is predicated on creating, buying, and selling advertising. But no matter how much these advertising and media shops claim to be adding social media to their suite of services, the shift in mindset and culture is a barrier that continues to be too much to overcome. They default to the trading model with which they are most comfortable.

It is public relations and social media specialist agencies that are blazing the trail and who understand the environment implicitly. And it is our sector that will help ensure Facebook and Twitter confound Irwin Gotlieb's prediction and stick around long into the future as places where people gather to consume and discuss content and engage with brands.

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