Flu Attacks Media Business: Now is the Time to Act

06/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Scientists recently discovered a process in the body's immune system called "anergy." It has commonly been believed that, when an invading virus attacks the body, white blood cells race to the point of invasion, surrounding and destroying the invading virus. It is now known that although the white blood cells charge to the point of incursion, they do not immediately attack. Instead, they wait passively on the sidelines in the "anergic state," waiting for a second signal from the brain to confirm the virus and authorize the white cells to attack.

In the media business, we are settled in the anergic state. We know the industry is under siege by both economic and systemic attacks. Digital dimes feeding the system do not equal the analog dollars being drained. Trade and consumer promotional spending has invaded and is dominating the marketing budget. There is a virus attacking the health of the media business. But efforts to respond have been passive at best. The industry is waiting for a signal to take action. But what action? And who is responsible for sending the signal? Investments in engagement research, interactive media, behavioral targeting, addressability and the focus on improved measures of advertising effectiveness are analogous to assigning the white blood cells the job of the brain. They are not a cure; only placebos that make us believe we are treating the virus but in fact that just further drain our resources and delay our return to health. We stand in danger, in the media business, of becoming overly reliant on a declining ad business, on meaningless Nielsen information, on proliferating technology and on the harvesting of traditional relationships without seeking new solutions. We are in danger of losing our ability to think intelligently and logically about the future.

Too many media and advertising executives are waiting passively on the sidelines accepting business as usual, even as a virus eats away at the health of their businesses. For the media industry to renew its vitality and dominant role in the marketing process, managers must send a signal throughout their organizations that new solutions are required – solutions that will ultimately replace those cells that are infected and no longer productive. Executives must redirect resources to growth businesses and refocus all their energies on developing new resources that tap into the healthy marketing silos – such as promotion, trade communications, events, database management, cause related initiatives. Media executives need to resist the temptation to simply seek a greater share of unhealthy traditional advertising budgets, which are shrinking to less than 30 percent of all marketing communications investments. We must move from the anergic state to a state of action – defending and protecting the media industry from the virus that threatens it.

Another extraordinary discovery in the medical community is that a gene called p53 is a cell's primary defensive weapon against the malignant growth of cancerous cells that can grow without check and move from one organ to another until the health of the organism is destroyed. The p53 gene can sense the first sign of damage to chromosomes and prevent a cell from doing anything further until DNA enzymes can act and repair the damage.

The media industry requires its own version of the p53 gene -- an agent who has a view of the total media business and who can recognize and act to stop any destructive elements that are negatively affecting the success of that business and the health of a media industry that has thrived for eight decades. Marketing budgets are declining overall for the first time since the depression. Marketers are shifting attention to new media options and converting a growing percentage of their marketing budgets to non-advertising resources. The core value of traditional media as a viable marketing tool continues to erode. We need a p53 agent to assess the damage, define the comparative value of these options, and defend against the dangers.

Jack Myers consults with media companies, agencies and marketers to assess growth opportunities, develop innovative new business models and launch strategic business development initiatives. Jack can be reached at

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