A is for Apple, B is for Broadband: Ad agencies getting a course in Streaming 101

Internet.com (May 8, 2001)

They didn’t have to raise their hands to go to the bathroom, but the ad executives who gathered in a Chicago conference room not long ago were definitely back in school.

The subject matter, streaming media, was something their clients were likely to test them on one of these days.

“The traditional folks had a larger learning curve, but I’ve been in this space a long time, and even I learned something,” says Julie LaGuardia, an associate media director at TribalDDB, who was in the room that day. “It’s one thing to be knowledgeable about it but another component is actually using it and understanding its value in a tangible way.”

The session mid-March was the first stop on a three-city agency road show put on by RealNetworks. It was part of an expanding effort by streaming media companies to educate advertising agencies about the merits — and complexities — of streaming media advertising.

“It’s important to be able to say, ‘You might think you know about streaming media, but sit through one of these and we think you’ll be surprised at how far things have come,” says Steve Grimes, creative director for RealNetworks consumer group.

One ad is better than none

One measure of how far things have come is found in a study released by Arbitron this week — to coincide with one of its own road shows — that found that 85 percent of webcasters report they have sold at least one advertising buy in the past year, up dramatically from a year 2000 survey.

But those numbers also speak to how far the industry still has to go. Imagine publishers in any other medium being pleased they had sold “at least one” flight of ads.

The survey also contains the key to the sudden onslaught of educational road shows aimed at advertising agencies: One third of those webcast ad dollars came from interactive agencies and only 25 percent from traditional agencies.

“We found that there are so many pieces to the streaming media puzzle that when we go to an agency, a lot of people have tried it but they don’t necessarily see the whole overview,” explains Bill Rose, general manager and vice president of Arbitron Webcast Services, which tracks online audiences. “We’re telling them the story of webcasting; what it’s all about, teaching them about the value of streaming media advertising.”

“One of the biggest hurdles we face is that people don’t realize a number of things about streaming,” adds Grimes of RealNetworks. “How effective it is, how relatively easy it is to get something up and how we can help them do this.”

Preaching to the converted?

The RealNetworks tour hit agencies like FCB<I>i</I>, Digital@JWT and TribalDDB, which, at least on the surface, would seem like preaching to the converted. But even the agency experts say that when it comes to streaming advertising, these <I>really are</I> the early days.

“Folks in the agency space aren’t all like me,” says Rod Rakic, an FCB<i>i</i> Chicago account director who was a developer at Real earlier in his career. “They’re not all people who’ve been online since ’96. Even though it looks like it, this is not television and that’s the first thing that folks — whether a planner or a buyer or creative — need to understand.

“Everyone came away with a basic understanding of what’s possible,” he says of the RealNetworks presentation at his agency. “For some it opened up some new avenues to think about. The exciting part is that once you get this basic education to creative people — and I don’t just mean the people in the creative department — interesting things happen.”

“It’s so new that I don’t think anyone presupposes that an interactive media buyer has done a lot of streaming advertising,” says Susan Bratton, marketing director at broadband provider Excite@Home, who took part in a tour organized by webcaster iBeam. “It’s really just coming to fruition, so nobody is really behind the eight ball.”

LaGuardia of TribalDDB says that roadshows like these bolster internal efforts to bring those on the “traditional” side of the agency up-to-speed on interactive solutions.

“When a road show like this comes along it validates our teachings because they’re actually seeing it work and hearing it from somebody who lives in that landscape,” Laguardia observes. “It wasn’t over anybody’s head. They explained what the hell it is and talked not just about the banners and buttons of the world but what they can do and what the category can do beyond that and — even more important — how it can be measured.”

But, as anyone who has ever gone to an industry conference — in any industry — knows, there is a fine line between “informational presentation” and sales pitch. And ultimately, the goal of agency presentations by companies like Real, Arbitron, iBeam and other streaming companies is to sell their services.

“They’re blended and we know it,” says FCB<i>I</i>’s Rakic of the education/sales balance. “You’re marketing to marketers. And that’s ok, it’s part of the dance. As soon as it goes into blatant sales pitch you’ll see people get up and walk out of the room. It’s as simple as that.”

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