Opinion

Media owners give a presentation on how to lose an audience

You’d think the one thing that media owners would be good at doing is holding an audience. So to see delegates head for the exit whenever a media owner took to the stage at a conference in Singapore a fortnight ago was more than a touch ironic.

Eyeballs rolled as yet another flashy showreel was bookended by lots of big but arbitrary numbers and a bland observation that anyone could make about growth and Asia’s “amazing potential”.

You know a session is bad when the only take-home point the conference moderator can think of is that the media owner reaches umpteen million mobile users in Vietnam.

No, it’s not unusual to see a media owner get up on stage and sell. They are salespeople, after all. It’s their job. But what frustrated me, and many people I spoke to at The Festival of Media Asia, is that these guys were talking to an audience of media agencies whose job it is to know this stuff anyway. So what’s the point in shoving it down their throats? Media buyers are more than capable of reading a media kit.

How about explaining how you built these audiences? How about an insight? Something you have learned while doing what is by no means an easy job, but for which you are very well paid?

There was close to zero attempt to connect on a meaningful level with an audience who are there to learn something. To sit through a session was a true test of Asian politeness. So why do media owners tend to present the way they do at conferences?

At The Festival of Media Asia, as with all conferences (you’d hope), a media owner, or anyone else, cannot secretly buy a speaker slot. And sponsors do not get a slot as part of a package. So there was no commercial pressure to justify time on a podium by making the hard sell.

Plus speakers are asked to avoid pimping their wares. The Festival of Media’s content team told me: “When we invite media owners to speak, we do brief them beforehand stressing the importance of not pitching on stage and most adhere to this. While it can be tempting to omit them from our agenda to cut any chance of pitching, we wouldn’t really be The Festival of Media without them.”

Which is fair enough. A media event without media owners would be a bit like MasterChef without the cooks. And I should make clear at this point that The Festival of Media was well organised, the program – based on the topic of mobility – was solid, and the speaker line-up was generally excellent and showed a content team with great contacts (on the program – marketing honchos from Unilever, Coke, Diageo, Coutts and MasterCard, plus cameos from WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and Barack Obama’s campaign chief). The Festival’s PR team, Rice Communications, was also good. It was just a shame that media owners spoiled the party.

Some companies clearly have a conference strategy built into their marketing plans. But that strategy falls down the moment the audience decides that coffee and biscuits outside in the breakout area is a better way to spend their time.

It is, of course, naïve to think that people who take to the stage at conferences will not try to do a bit of selling, either of themselves or their employers. The trick – like any good ad – is to sell while being interesting and give the audience a genuine reason to stick around.

Steve Blakeman, the Asia Pacific CEO of media agency OMD, and Harry Dewhirst, APAC SVP and MD of mobile ad tech firm Amobee, got up on stage to try to break into the Guinness Book of Records by holding the world’s largest interactive mobile presentation. It was a big risk and Blakeman, who is no shrinking violet, was visibly worried that the record attempt would fail. Which it did. Ironically enough, because the technology didn’t work. But at least he tried to be original.

Media owners. Please stop treating people who take the time to listen to you present like idiots.

Robin Hicks

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