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FEATURE29 May 2009

‘I’d like to be standing up in January saying, “Well, here it is”’

Features News UK

As efforts to launch a common planning currency for online media near completion, UK Internet Advertising Bureau chief executive Guy Phillipson talks Brian Tarran through the final hurdles that lie ahead.

Yesterday, UKOM passed a milestone that its predecessor had long struggled to reach – it entered preliminary contract discussions with its preferred supplier of web audience data, Nielsen Online.

There’s still some way to go before advertisers finally get their hands on the media planning tool they have spent years demanding. But – as Phillipson explains in an interview today – the prize is in sight.

Nielsen is the preferred option of UKOM and its shareholders, the IAB and the Association of Online Publishers, but you've approached the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA) for their views. Does Nielsen’s appointment rely on the approval of IPA and ISBA, or are you gauging their opinions as a courtesy?

We've already engaged this week with the IPA and ISBA and all the messages are very encouraging, but that’s just part of the process. Over the next month we need to get down to some detail, and they'll have detailed questions about the system and we'll be working with Nielsen to make sure they can be accommodated before we go any further.

What is the system that Nielsen has proposed? UKOM was looking at two options: a partnership approach and the more traditional JIC-model approach?

UKOM was happy to talk to any supplier who wanted to tender against the supplier brief – the Jicims spec – and the budget we had available. The Nielsen approach is, as you say, a partnership approach where we are using the budget to make improvements to what is in the market at the moment.

Jicims was budgeted at £5m a year. Can you give us an indication of what the new budget is?

No, but it is a fraction of that.

What kind of fraction?

It’s between 20 and 30 per cent.

Are you happy that with the amount of money you have there and with the partnership approach that you're still going to get the level of data quality that you would have got through the JIC?

The advantage of taking the partnership approach is that we can get what we need faster, quicker and cheaper. Unlike the traditional media currencies – Barb or Rajar – which had to be started pretty much from scratch, there is, and has been for years, [online audience] data in the market that exists and is paid for in the usual ways by agencies and media owners. We simply wanted to make the necessary improvements to bring that up to the standard required within the original Jicims specification.

Speed is, I guess, of the essence. How important is it for online as a medium to have this system in place so that when we come out of the downturn there is a reliable way for everyone to plan using a common currency?

I believe it has become even more important, and actually the new president of ISBA [Mark Hunter] said as much in his opening speech at their conference. Advertisers have waited a long time for this, and actually they are getting a bit fed up. Jicims took a long time to decide that actually the budget wasn't there for the full JIC, but if you look at the progress of UKOM, it was formed at the end of December, the tender was issued in February, the submissions had to be in by the end of March and we're now moving towards a recommendation. So, we've got the second half of this year to make sure we can implement all the improvements we need to deliver a robust industry currency by January 2010.

What kind of changes will Nielsen be looking to make to its current system to bring it into line with the Jicims standard?

I don't want to talk about that now. What we'd like to do is wait until if and when we make an appointment. There will be industry presentations about what the data sets are, what the improvements are going to be and how it can be accessed. That’s something for another day.

Mark Cranmer has stepped down as chairman of UKOM. What plans are there to replace him?

First of all, Mark Cranmer was absolutely brilliant and continues to be. The pace that he injected into UKOM was welcomed by everyone in the industry. He’s now got the chief executive role at Isobar so clearly he can't maintain both roles. During this next month, while we're talking to all the industry stakeholders, we won't be recruiting a new chair. I think it would not necessarily be great timing. But as long as we make an appointment, and we can see absolutely clear water for UKOM moving into 2010, we will be recruiting a new chair. I would expect that we would perhaps be making an announcement in two months or so.

Discussions are already under way with IPA and ISBA. Have they been happy with what’s been presented to them so far?

The immediate feedback is literally very encouraging – they are very encouraged with progress and they have lists of questions and clarifications, as I said earlier, which we need to look at. But personally I'm very pleased with the support we are receiving now.

And July is when you say you might have an announcement on the official status of the currency…

Yes, I'm pretty confident it will be. We have to work quite hard, but we've been quite ruthless in keeping this whole thing on track with regard to timing. We're aware that all sorts of organisations promise things by X, Y or Z month. When I say January 2010 I'd really like to be standing up on a rostrum in January saying, ‘Well, here it is'.

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