EXECUTIVE SESSION WITH MARIA LUISA FRANCOLI

Broadcast TV Still Go-To Community Medium

The CEO of Havas Media North America ($2.7 billion in 2009 billings) says media buyers are targeting communities of all sorts and TV stations are still one of the best ways of reaching the geographic kind. In buying all media, she says, she would like to see more consistent audience measurement, and find ways of eliminating some of the transactional costs.

Media that cater to communities — be they based on geography or personal interest — will get an increasing share of ad dollars. And TV stations are all part and parcel of that. So says Maria Luisa Francoli, CEO of Havas Media North America and its MPG Global subsidiary in this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Janet Stilson.

Francoli is a key driver in multiplatform media planning at the agency, which had $2.7 billion in U.S. billings in 2009, and she’d like to see more effective offerings by stations across the various platforms. And while she has a big-picture mandate, she expresses a keen appreciation for what smaller market TV stations offer clients.

She also would like see improvements in how station audiences are measured. One answer may be the viewing data for set-top boxes, but that, she says, is still far from perfect. And like other media buyers, she is eager to take some of the cost out of buying all media.

An edited transcript:


Do you see mobile DTV as a compelling opportunity for your clients?

Absolutely. I think that local is becoming more and more important. We are moving in a world of communities, and the first form of community is the local community where you live. So everything that can communicate with you when you are in your community — be it your TV; your mobile phone when you are walking in the streets of the community; local newspapers; or even local newsletters — I think all of those communication formats are growing, and will grow even more in the future.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

You can do very exciting programs that really connect with the community needs, with the community desires, with the community problems, with the community issues.

So will all the new local opportunities get an increasing share of the dollars?

I think definitely the media mix will be evolving to include more opportunities that allow us to get in touch with a specific community — be it a geographically located community or be it an interest community that may transcend a geographical point.  

For sure, everything that deals with communities is going to be growing, and it’s going to get a lot more dollars.

Does that include traditional TV stations?

Yes, absolutely it does.

There’s been a controversy over whether TV stations should be rated on a live-plus-same-day basis rather than live only. Why not judge their performance on a full day’s worth of viewing?

I don’t want to go into the technicalities of all of that. The issue that I would like to point out is that when you evaluate different media options, you need to have measurement systems that are as consistent as possible so that you can make wise decisions.

If you have one type of currency for one of the options and a different type of currency for another option, you will not be able to make a rationally based decision. So the more consistent, the more homogeneous we can make the different comparisons and mechanisms, the better for the advertisers when they have to make the decisions.

Recently the Media Ratings Council decided to remove its accreditation of diary ratings for TV stations in markets below 150. Are the smaller markets still of value to your clients?

Every market — regardless of how small they are — can be extremely relevant for certain advertisers. There’s no way that they should be written off for certain advertisers. Those communities are as important as any other ones.

We need to find, as agencies and as advisers to our clients, a way to incorporate diary measurement and make it as consistent as possible.

Ideally, it would be great to have all those communities measured in a way that’s more like the rest of the TV world. But that is expensive, and that takes time. I am sure that with all the technological advancements, that will be possible soon.

What are your thoughts about the data that’s starting to become available via set-top boxes? Do you see this as a significant leap forward? Are there problems with it?

There are still issues with it. I wouldn’t say problems, but issues both in the data and in our way of interpreting the data. But I think it’s a great advancement because everything that we have learned with more sophisticated measurement systems — like Internet measurement — we can incorporate now with TV.

Even if the data is not perfect today, and even if we are not perfect in managing that data, it’s such a huge leap compared to where we were before that.

Some TV station sales executives are starting to position themselves as having more of an agency role in advising clients because they offer so many types of media.  What do you think of that approach?

I think it’s great that they do that. If this is the type of dialogue that we can have with them, that’s excellent. We need that.

Your purview is much wider than the United States. Are there things that TV stations are doing in other countries that you would like to see stations in the U.S. embrace? For example, mobile opportunities in markets like Japan and South Korea.

Yes. In the mobile space, definitely there are markets that have advanced in that area more than the U.S. But I always say that the U.S. is a market that is usually leading, and when it is not leading — like in the case of mobile — it catches up very quickly and surpasses the leaders.

In general, [stations] could have more of the integration [of media opportunities] that you were describing before. I mean, it’s not particular to this market, because even in more advanced markets you see that media companies are trying to bundle mobile opportunities with the TV opportunities and maybe some print publications that they may own. But at the end of the day, there are also some moments when it’s difficult to put everything together and get an overall agreement where one plus one plus one equals five.

Recently an executive at another agency told me that he felt local TV sales executives were too resistant to change; they aren’t innovative enough. What’s your impression?

I don’t deal on a daily basis with the local TV [sales people]. But what you just described makes sense for local TV stations and for all kinds of companies. It is difficult. When you are in a smaller community you can be more resistant to certain changes than other people who are more in the mainstream markets. Maybe they don’t have the updated systems they may have in New York or in L.A. or in London.

What do you see as your agency’s top challenge over the course of 2011?

Let me tell you about a challenge that I think is important and that sometimes we overlook, because it’s not the type of glamorous challenge that we all like to talk about — not strategies, commercial policies and all of that.

The number of transactions, the number of different invoices, if you will, the number of different things that need to be processed by the agencies both at the planning stage and at the billing stage is growing and growing and growing because the number of different media that we deal with is growing.

If you think of social, out of home, local TV stations, the mobile operators … I mean, it’s exploding, and the big challenge is to find a way where we all can process that in an effective and an efficient manner for ourselves and for the ultimate benefit of our clients.

I think that is a big challenge, and I know it’s not as glamorous as the things we like to discuss, but this is the foundation of our business, and we need to do that very, very well.

So it involves finding better operating systems?

Absolutely. Good operating systems that minimize the opportunities for errors — that make sure that we streamline the process — because to process three networks is very different than processing 3,000 suppliers.

So what excites you the most about 2011?

What excites me the most about 2011 is not just what I described. That is something that preoccupies me a lot.

But what excites me the most is the new opportunities that we have and how we can really connect our clients’ companies to consumers in a number of different ways, by activating their passion for the communities that they belong to.

How do we make our clients be a rightful part of those communities where their products will be welcomed, received well and developed by the community? That’s what is really exciting.


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