Tough times, but media executives are upbeat

Ruth Guy

Director of fundraising and marketing, Barnardos

‘‘What will 2009 bring? As of now, the answer is unclear. It is not looking like a great year for anyone but it will be particularly hard for the not-for-profit sector. Why? Because more than ever our services are needed. Barnardos has already seen the signs of increased hardship in the communities we work with, and the impact that is having – particularly on the children. We are facing the dilemma of increased demand without increased funding to deliver those services.

‘‘2008 saw a downturn in fund-raising income right across the sector. Many charities saw a decline in corporate funding and increased attrition rates in their individual donor databases. Other fundraising activities simply no longer worked in terms of raising income, and were stopped.

‘‘The harsh reality is that, in order to do their work, charities have to fundraise. In a recent survey, 83 per cent of Irish adults said the main reason they gave to a charity was because they were asked.

‘‘If we don’t ask, we don’t get. It is as simple as that. ‘‘We have always had tight budgets and have to work hard to compete in a crowded charity and media market. The coming year will be no different in that respect.

‘‘The irony is that our budgets should go further as competition increases and prices drop.

‘‘Everything Barnardos does in the public domain is aimed at achieving a number of key targets: to educate and inform people about the issues children and families we work with are facing; to explain the work Barnardos does and what impact it has; to encourage people to financially support our work

‘‘We measure success on awareness, understanding and ultimately – and most crucially – income received. It is no different than any other organisation, apart from the fact that the end result is not increasing market share but funding the delivery of services that change lives.

‘‘We rely on the people who support us to continue to deliver the services we do. We will continue to go out there and, no matter how bad things get in 2009,we will keep asking because now more than ever we need that support.”

Michael Killeen

Managing director, Dialogue

‘‘This will be the year when marketing folk get to stand up and deliver. Gone are the days of the ‘nice ad, buddy’ pat on the shoulder. Marketing can make a difference during tough times. Agencies and marketing departments will be under the spotlight like never before. We need to keep cool heads in the years ahead. The result for our discipline will be respect. The result for the marketer could be an invitation to sit at the boardroom table.

‘‘In 2009, business will embrace strategies that cement longer-term security. Chasing short-term profit has gone out the window. Sobriety is the name of the game. This will start off by locking in our best people: staff who understand the benefits of – and are capable of- delivering long-term strategic programmes rather then short-term tactical efforts. Ring-fencing best customers will be the number one marketing initiative across every business in Ireland.

‘‘For those who have not got on board, this race is already well under way. Customer relationship marketing initiatives have been, and will continue to be, approved. Anything that focuses on long-term survival will be ticked for investment. Agencies will need to position proactive initiatives under this heading to have any chance of getting a seat at the table.

‘‘The past decade has been dominated by acquisition efforts, to the extent that consumers are fed up being sold things they simply don’t need. We see a major budget shift, as much as 30 per cent, in favour of retention.

‘‘Retention is the new acquisition. Acquisition will be driven by word -of-mouth experiences from these retention programmes. Our last quarter in 2008 was the best quarter in our 15-year history. The movement from acquisition to retention is well on its way. The movement from mass to direct follows. Every cent spent has to be justified.

‘‘Most clients are understandably uncertain as to plans for this year. There is a general ‘we simply don’t know’ response. I expect a fall-off in ATL (‘above the line’ promotional spend).How significant, and for how long, will be dependent on the general confidence in our political and corporate arenas. I believe that ATL budgets could drop as sharply as 20-25 per cent. Sponsorship, events and entertainment aimed at mass acquisition will be curtailed. I can confirm more direct customer communications. That’s not me speaking, that’s clients confirming.

‘‘Finally, the general consensus is that it will be a tough year. Rotation of 2008 creative will ensure some layoffs in our sector. Agencies without financial cushions will cut back, merge or unfortunately sink. The freelance market could flourish but it will experience the taxi man phenomenon – get ferociously competitive with new arrivals. The end result may be a lack of inspiration which will result in bucket loads of bland communications.

‘‘Marketing has been talking about being taken seriously for years now. It’s high time we walked the walk.”

Aileen O’Toole

Managing director, online consultancy Amas

‘‘Now for a blast of optimism, but tinged with realism. While 2009 will see marketing budgets slashed and media companies and agencies retrench, it looks set to be a watershed year for digital marketing and communications in Ireland.

‘‘It will be the year when more clients will shift advertising spend online, when social media and emerging platforms will become an integral part of the communications mix and when business owners take to DIY online campaigns in greater numbers. While digital has been the ‘also ran’ in many a campaign, fighting for budget and a client’s attention against TV, radio, and press and a galaxy of other media choices, in 2009 it will begin to move centre stage.

‘‘These bullish predictions are based on hard evidence. Firstly, internet usage has reached critical mass with over a million broadband subscribers. Irish audiences are absorbing richer online content in greater numbers, streaming TV shows from the US, watching or publishing videos on YouTube, making connections on Facebook and other channels, as well as researching and buying online.

‘‘Secondly, there’s value for money, the mantra for these recessionary times. Online is the lowest cost channel, capable of delivering sales, leads, customer engagement or a range of other objectives at a fraction of the cost of traditional campaigns. Free or low-cost tools have cut website development and digital campaign costs. Such tools are not just for geeks. Increasingly, they are powering the websites and the campaigns of leading international brands.

‘‘Thirdly, there’s the stellar brand of 2008, Barack Obama, whose strategic use of the internet to deliver votes and campaign dollars has been a wakeup call to those in charge of marketing and communications budgets. They are looking to the Obama campaign for inspiration and ideas. The Obama online strategy was a clever combination of old-style campaigning and communications meshed with the use of new tools and marketing techniques. All of this was built around a simple, yet powerful, message – change.

‘‘The outlook for digital is overwhelmingly positive. In more mature online markets, the US and Britain, marketers are saying that they will be increasing their online budgets, but the rate of increase is tapering off.

‘‘In Ireland, we’re still playing catch up. Amas research among members of the Marketing Institute of Ireland points to a similar pattern. Just over half of the sample said that they are spending 10 per cent or more of their budgets online.

‘‘It would be easy to get carried away with digital’s growth and its potential and to ignore the scary economic times we live in. So, a reality check is needed. Inevitably, tighter budgets will impact on digital businesses and projects will get canned or curtailed. Digital businesses will collapse, will be restructured, or will be consolidated.

‘‘The sector in Ireland is fragmented, making it difficult for clients to buy services or differentiate suppliers. There is insufficient research to enable clients and agencies to buy with confidence.

‘‘From the client side, the challenge is to move digital from the tactical to the strategic. Clients need to exploit digital but must be confident of the role, the benefits and the return on investment. Also, they need to align digital to their business or organisational strategy.

‘‘Digital is a disruptive force in the worlds of marketing, advertising and communications. It does not suit the traditional models of agencies, publishers and other established players. For them, also, 2009 will be a watershed year but the prognosis is more negative.”

(source: Catherine O’Mahon)

Richard Reid is the founder of Pinnacle Proactive, Specialising in theEmployee Assistance ProgramStress ManagementStaff Retention & Absenteeism. Take a Proactive Approach to Growing Your Organisation & its People. For more info visit


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