Thursday, August 2, 2007
Adscam asks if 'Ad Age' will trump 'Adweek'
In the unbridled style to which we've become accustomed, George Parker of AdScam said yesterday that he thought that Ad Age will finish off Adweek. You can read the whole post, which contains only four swear words, here. The high- or low-light, depending on one's perspective, is when he tells Ad Age editor Jonah Bloom that the one thing he needs to do to declare victory is to hire away long-time Adweek-er Barbara Lippert. Obviously those who know me know I've a little perspective on this. I worked at Adweek for much of my career, and even was the interactive editor at Ad Age for a glorious ten months, until the publication more or less declared interactive comatose, along with my career there, in October 2001. (No hard feelings, honest.) But the whole thing isn't as simplistic as Parker makes it out to be. First, Ad Age vs. Adweek isn't an either/or proposition, and frankly, the health of both publications depends on both continuing to exist. Much of what has made both books vibrant over the years is the fact that there has been another publication out there to compete against. (True, there are now other competitors out there, like Mediapost, that are doing a fine job, but there's something about the long rivalry of Ad Age vs. Adweek that brings out both publications' best competitive instincts.) Still, Parker raises a valid question. What might make someone perceive Ad Age as better, at this point when media and creative and branding are sometimes one in the same, is that Ad Age has a more comprehensive perspective. There is shared content amongst Adweek and its siblings Mediaweek and Brandweek, but ultimately Ad Age is a one-stop content shop; Adweek is not. And then there's the matter of commitment, not by the reporters and editors that work at both publications, but by the corporate higher-ups. It's obvious to anyone who studies this stuff closely that Ad Age has received more investment over the last few years than Adweek has, which isn't surprising given that it is owned by a private, family-run company—Crain Communications—which considers Ad Age, along with Automotive News and another book or two, to be one of its signature properties. A commenter to Parker's post asks, "Could VNU/Nielsen be the problem?" and the answer, I think, is a qualified yes. Before VNU was bought out by a bunch of private equity guys, the focus was on cost-cutting, both because of the continued slump in circulation and ad pages that many magazines are experiencing, and because the company was public and on the block. Strategically speaking, I believe this was exactly the same time at which VNU, for the sake of the publications, should have been investing more in its magazines, particularly in the digital arena. Instead, from what I could tell, budgets kept shrinking, and vacated jobs weren't filled, leaving less people to do the same, or more, work. Under the recently re-branded Nielsen, things may—or may not—improve, but the sense from within the company is that all the private equity people are really interested in, is, understandably, Nielsen itself, a cash-cow and near monopoly. (After all, the powers-that-be renamed the company Nielsen, which is evidence enough.) Impossible to say what will happen of course, but both Adweek and Ad Age will be better off with each other than without each other.