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25 February 2024

Business as unusual is way to new horizons

By Elie Khourie

In an internal e-mail earlier this year, I described what happened in 2009 as "business as usual", before calling what we expect from 2010 "business as unusual". The thinking behind these statements is that, combined with a rapidly evolving media landscape, the global downturn is forcing our industry to revisit its model. All stakeholders need to find alternatives to a model that is no longer sustainable as resources dry up, while embracing the unstoppable rise of new technologies that empower consumers, affecting their media habits forever.

While the downturn is far from over, clients are already moving away from just cutting investments in advertising and instead looking for ways to make their money work harder by maximising the return on every advertising dollar. They need agencies to guide them in these difficult times rather than try to convince them to increase their budgets.

Those who don't adapt to this new reality won't be here for long. Though it is a daunting challenge, every cloud has a silver lining and in this case, it is the opportunity of being more than a fair weather friend to our clients by piloting them out of the danger zone. It's well worth the effort as the impact of today's changes will be long felt, so we might as well start today.

Merely adjusting to the drop in advertising budgets and planning for a marginal increase in the future is not a long-term solution. That's the business equivalent of scratching the surface. Instead, leaders would be well advised to grasp the needs of tomorrow and align their business to them today.

If nothing else, the slump has had the effect of speeding up the adoption of new media habits, both from the consumer and advertiser perspectives, meaning that communications agencies have had to evolve. The key drivers of our industry will be the companies that understand technology and anticipate how consumers are going to react to something they've never seen before. Many in the communications industry, for example, are still trying to capitalise on the popularity of social networks. YouTube has yet to figure that out.

These digital platforms sit squarely at the centre of the industry, through their relevance to all communications disciplines, from media and PR to creative and direct media specialists. It would be easy to describe this as a new El Dorado, as all marketing and advertising disciplines are vying for supremacy in this space. However, what is really at stake here is not who's in charge but more who is going to drive the value for clients forward. Today, it's all about maximising the return on communications investments and not just executing campaigns.

New platforms and technologies ultimately mean new methods of communication and a different way to look at media. First there is the media you pay. Traditional or digital, it's the conventional way to use media, by pushing the message through. With the emergence (or growing significance) of digital media, we are now adding the media we own, thanks to the platforms that brands create. This is what we call pull, where consumers seek the content we provide. When a soft drinks company promotes its products through an online music store or a movie, instead of street posters, it creates another way to communicate and strengthens the connection with consumers. Lastly, there is also the media we earn, through the buzz and conversations on social networks, for example, when consumers engage with the brand in a two-way exchange. Consider the ads produced by consumers for Doritos in the States.

The more innovative and interactive a brand is in its communications, the more engaging it appears and consumers respond positively to this. Du, for example, benefited hugely from its dutweets, proving that social networks can be effective branding channels if used properly. Ultimately, if a brand shows respect to its customers, they will respond positively. They've certainly become far more assertive than, say, 50 years ago and are now much more in control over their media than in the past. Media owners are now adapting to this new reality borne out of the rise of digital technology. It's hard on certain media, print for example, but they're all evolving to remain current and relevant.

This evolution, affecting all the elements in the chain, has a by-product, and it's the need for accountability. Limited resources make a proper performance assessment absolutely critical, as a part of the decision-making process and once projects are completed. Every one needs to stand to scrutiny. Now that will be "business as unusual".


The writer is CEO of Omnicom Media Group, Mena. The views expressed are his own


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