THE BLOG

Above, Below and on the Line: What's the Best Way to Reach an Audience?

19/05/2015 10:40 BST | Updated 15/05/2016 10:59 BST

Earlier on this week the Economist let us know that the television industry in the US had delivered the last of its 'upfront' presentations, so ending days of inviting potential advertisers to parties to meet visiting celebs and to watch trailers and pilots of forthcoming shows, in an attempt to persuade them to part with their money. The report pointed out that the amount spent during the upfronts is "one of the TV businesses' most important tests", and that with falling TV ratings and thus fewer eyeballs on ads, "it has not passed with flying colours". The worry now is, the Economist says, that marketers may switch to online platforms, turning away from TV: as the report says, "television is no longer the only star of the show".

The growth of online advertising is hardly a new thing: Facebook barely existed a decade ago, but in 2014 it attracted more than $5 billion in ad spend in the United States. Likewise, changes in the way we watch TV have attracted comment for ages, as audiences, faced with a plethora of viewing options, have splintered. In 2010, for example, the top-ranked non-sports show in the United Kingdom was the X Factor, with 17.8 million watching at its peak ; by 2014 the highest ranking want to the final of Bake Off, with more than 4 million fewer viewers, and X Factor not even in the top ten. The media landscape is clearly shifting.

But television is certainly not dead and buried. As the Economist makes clear, TV advertising spend was $67 billion in the US last year, still significantly higher than $44 billion for online. And a recent report by MHP's client Freeview points out that in the United Kingdom at least watching television remains a national obsession with 33 million Brits describing themselves as 'TV addicts'. The reality anyway will not be 'either or', since television shows drive online to share, and tweet, and comment, and blog - and view those online ads. Any marketing guru will tell you that, of course, fully integrated 'traditional' and online campaigns are increasingly the norm.

Speaking of integration, there is another area of communications that we haven't even mentioned yet. According to the most recent Holmes Report (covering 2013) said that global spending on PR was up to $12.5 billion, continuing the period of strong growth. Despite the challenges brought by the same changing media landscape, it would be a surprise if 2014 had not seen a further rise, not least in online PR spend. This means that public relations is well and truly in the mix alongside TV, online and other forms of advertising. But again, this should not be viewed as an 'either or': the best brand campaigns are fully integrated between PR and advertising, and campaigns to bolster corporate reputation or to drive public behaviour change are more and more being conducted above and below the line, with PRs and ad guys collaborating to produce engaging content and deliver impactful programmes.

There are changes afoot that all of us in communications need to confront. So do those who report on our sector. The biggest change of all is the need to stop thinking of competition between television and online, or between above the line and below. We should think instead about collaboration, cooperation and integration, and the significant results that we can achieve together.