‘From Print to Digital’: ‘Fear’ Grips the Media Industry

Video: “Billions of exposures” are not being counted online, said media veteran Gene DeWitt. DeWitt tackles the challenges of online measurement and how to improve the link between media sales and accountability, among other issues that are now top of mind among media professionals. DeWitt, who has advised global brands such as AT&T and McDonald’s, also provides some insight on why in their battle for talent traditional media companies might have the upper hand on the Yahoos and Googles of the world and why print isn’t going away anytime soon.

Media veteran Gene DeWitt doesn’t mince words when asked how the current downturn in media markets stacks up against previous economic slowdowns. “Fear,” said DeWitt, who recently appeared on ‘From Print to Digital’ to talk about how the financial crisis is affecting media buying and selling.

Unlike previous downturns, media companies, marketers and ad agencies have very little guidelines on how to adjust “to a radically different revenue base,” DeWitt said. Indeed, because media markets have changed so dramatically since the 2000-2001 recession, e.g. the advent of Web 2.0, the growth of online video and the erosion in print-media properties, media players are grappling with much more uncertainty about where to put their money compared with downturns in the past.

The current downturn has spooked marketers of all stripes to reduce their media budgets; media companies (Time Inc., McGraw-Hill Cos., Wenner Media, for example) have responded in kind with several rounds of job cuts, with more layoffs expected in 2009.

DeWitt stressed that one thing media companies and marketers can do to adapt to an austere media environment is to improve their efforts at microtargeting — both online and offline. There’s been too much “lip service” to microtargeting, he said. “It’s hard to do,” but taking the time to build a relationship with a particular group makes it easier to sustain a media plan for the long-term.
Media companies also need to compete more effectively with the Googles and the Yahoos of the world for digital talent, and convince younger people that going to work for traditional media company might ultimately provide more opportunity than new media companies, which are narrower in scope, DeWitt said.

Marketing executives have their work cut out for them, too. They have to convince senior managers that now is the time to ramp up media spending because a) media time and space are the cheapest they’ve been in decades and b) downturns are an opportunity to increase share once the market corrects itself.

DeWitt, who has worked with several global marketers, ranging from AT&T to McDonald’s to The Wall Street Journal, also has sound advice for marketers and media companies on how to change the conversation about media measurement (since the existing conversation seems to be going nowhere fast); how to improve integrated marketing plans and the still-ripe opportunities for print properties because, despite the Web’s growing influence “it’s still largely an analog country,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt threw a bit of cold water on the notion that in media markets it’s all digital, all the time. “It isn’t quite a digital age,” he said. “No one has invented anything as powerful as a TV commercial.”

Not yet, anyway.

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