Media, left out of the relationship

Note who’s missing in Tanzina Vega’s New York Times story today about the monster merger of ad agencies Publicis and Omnicom.

Media — TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, online — are nowhere to be seen. This merger, they all say, is about the ad agencies joining together to defend at the 11th hours against the real behemoth in the business, Google, as well as Facebook and Twitter. And the battleground is Big Data (when did that become a proper noun?) — that is, knowing about people, or having a relationship with them.

I’ve been arguing that media should stop thinking they’re in the content business and start believing they are in — or should be in — the relationship business. But we don’t know jack about people. We see people as a mass. We lived for a glorious century by the myth of mass media: that all readers see all ads so we can charge all advertisers for all readers. Thus we simply wanted *more* readers (or unique users, whatever you prefer to call us). Media companies are proud when they learn our email addresses but, of course, that is nothing but an excuse to spam us. My email address says *nothing* about me.

Media companies could know a great deal about us as individuals. Our content interests are a good signal — Google understands that and so does the NSA (says prior whistleblower Thomas Drake, “content is gold for determining intent”). But we in media have no good means to gather, analyze, act on, and exploit that signal beyond simple behavioral targeting.

I argue that media companies should be able to get people to build the trust to reveal themselves because media companies can give them value in return. Provide me traffic help and you’ll learn where I live and work and then you can target your content and advertising to my locale, delivering greater relevance and value. Right?

No. Google, Facebook, and Twitter listen to our signals. Omnicom and Publicis realize the value of those signals. They all understand the worth of relationships. And what do we do in media? We put up paywalls and scream about copyright. Garg.

LATER: Here’s Om Malik’s take on the merger. I agree that the net deflates.

Since 1920, US advertising industry revenues have hovered between 1 percent to 3 percent of the US gross domestic product. This pie is now shared between television, newspapers, magazines, radio, cable with Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo and thousands of other digital outlets. Of course, Internet often brings measurability, targeting and interactivity — which leads to a sort of deflationary pressure on industries that have traditionally benefited from ambiguity. Stock brokerages and travel industry were the first two industry to be baffled by this new reality.

  • It’s actually worse… The media sell the opportunity to gather those signals and thus that data for little more than pennies, but don’t gather it properly themselves, basically building all the roads but allowing other people to freely run taxi services on them…

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  • Google is a media company, it knows about people… I guess you are saying that old media doesn’t know who it’s readership is. I think it does it just doesn’t know what to do with it. And its because it only sees a bit of the elephant, Google sees nearly all of the elephant and that’s what counts. Bits of elephant don’t go far, maybe make an umbrella stand.

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  • wir_sind_hier

    speaking of companies knowing about people, have a look at these articles about sci-fi predicting our technological future, and about the meanings of freedom at

  • Scott Suttell

    As a reporter, I’d love to listen to all the signals of prominent CEOs, political figures, local nonprofit execs, etc. I’m skeptical they have much they’d actually want to share with a news organization in the way they share with Google, where the sharing brings benefits — directions to a location, a money-saving deal, restaurant recommendations.

    Bloomberg knows a lot about what its customers do — and the company got in trouble for writing stories based on the information.

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