Wednesday, July 23, 2008

From intrusion to engagement: How do we connect with an audience that'smore powerful than us?

I've been to a few media/pr/advertising conferences before and there is always a broad spectrum of topics and speakers who range in professionalism and interest. At one end of the spectrum you have death by powerpoint and at the other end you have Mark D'Arcy, the Chief Creative Officer of Time Warner Global Media Group.

D'Arcy's address was both interesting and informative and in itself, exemplified his topic. Admittedly, if TimeWarner couldn't put together a compelling show reel then who could?

I was engaged from the first notes of Silverchair's Straight Lines (genius - using a band from the crowd's homeland as backing to his intro had D'Arcy's audience immediately onside). This reel evoked smiles, frowns, foot tapping and above all attentative eyeballs as it ran through the enormous catalogue of products the company has on offer.

So D'Arcy started talking. "In Hollywood nobody knows anything" he quoted William Goldman. D'Arcy was referring to the notion that there is so many 'experts' in our industry but really, once you become an expert in one area the landscape has already changed and while your skills do not become redundant they require continual refinement to keep with the nature of the changing media environemnt.

In 2004 we had video on demand
2005 along came user generated content
2006 saw audiences embrace the virtual world
2007 made us all victims of social networking

So what happened to the 'experts' in each of these areas? They quickly had to become experts in all of these areas because for audiences, excellent video on demand is no good if it doesn't cohere with their social networking habits. This audience demand makes them more powerful than us, the media people (advertisers, owners, buyers).

D'Arcy pointed to some relevant audience changes:

Timeshift - time is increasingly irrelevant. Audiences can access any content they want at anytime of the day - say goodbye to appointment viewing.
Place shifts - audiences want the content they love where they love to be.
Atomizes - audiences choose what they want to watch, the media companies no longer choose what they will show.
Multi-channels - people are consuming more media on the whole. New channels are consumed not at the expense of other channels but in conjunction with them.
Create - access to technology means audiences can create their own media.
Curates - the way we organise media has changed. Audiences now use the media itself (internet) to organise their other media (pictures).
Critique - the wisdom of the masses has suddenly become more interesting.
Syndication - is very valueable. If you create loyalty via portal you have an advantage over single-minded media companies.
So if audiences have changed so much how does this affect the way advertisers communicate with them?

According to D'Arcy audiences have great expectations and given their vast array of choices, if one channel doesn't deliver, they will access their content elsewhere. Both for advertisers and media companies, dialogue is no longer a 'nice to have' but the cost of entry to an audience. Likewise, the media buzz word 'integration' is no longer an option but a given. If an advertiser or media company neglects to address their audience across multiple platforms, the reality is they will miss out on a significant portion of their potential audience.

This said, there is a universal demand for excellence and all platforms must be excellent!

The new media savvy audiences are open to advertising because they see the value behind it. Sponsorship and product integration has made it obvious that advertisers fund content and according to D'Arcy, 67% of consumers would rather get excellent free content with advertising, than poor content without advertising.

To make excellent content however, media owners & advertisers must know their audience and thus the relevance of dialogue is again pertinent. Media, used to be a numbers/sales based business but is now more than ever an ideas based industry. The most highly sought after skills amongst employees will soon be their ability to collaborate. All content will need to be insight-driven and these insights will need to be arrived at both through traditional means and the media-audience dialogue. D'Arcy indicates that advertiser measurement will shift from ROI to ROA (return on attention).

What I took from D'Arcy's address was not just learnings about audience engagement but inspiration for improving my own presentation skills. D'Arcy didn't speak at his audeince but engaged them with interesting content.

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