Clare O’Neil was appointed the chairperson of the South African Advertising Research Foundation last week. She takes over the reins at a time when the organisation needs to look to the future, and face its challenges in the present, such as funding and skills shortages. A member of the SABC board, and co-owner and director of integrated outdoor solutions company, MMAP, O’Neil is certainly up to the task.
“As the guardian of one of the industry’s most valuable resources, the SAARF Board must do more than simply rubber-stamp decisions made by the various media and product councils under it,” she says. “Made up as it is of representatives of every constituent within the media, marketing and advertising industries, the SAARF Board is uniquely placed to play a hands-on role in identifying future challenges and trends in the industry which will have an impact on SAARF and its work, and to then make plans accordingly.”
O’Neil has proposed the creation of a future-proofing sub-committee on the SAARF Board which will tackle such issues as funding, changes in the various media, and tenders for SAARF’s research products – anything which could have an impact on the future stability and security of the industry’s media currencies.
The Media Online: There are accusations that SAARF’s current funding model allows competitive disadvantage and results in painting a skewed market overview because each medium pays for its own research. What is your opinion of this statement?
O’Neil: I don’t agree entirely with this statement. In my view, media owners contribute their funding in good faith. Yes, there are challenges in the funding model; the SAARF Board is going to look at these challenges and ensure that the research needs of all the constituencies are met accordingly. The main point however, is that the funding dynamic has changed over the years. The SAARF Board has to ensure that the research outputs are in line with the funding inputs.
TMO: Do you believe AMPS data needs to be supplemented and its methodologies revisited?
O’Neil: Against the backdrop of the changing media landscape, there is a lot of debate about the need for research models that will allow more flexibility. The SAARF Board is completely committed to finding solutions to these issues. I have no hard and fast answers yet regarding this question, but what I can say, is that the SAARF Board has heard the methodology debate and had formed a “working” sub-committee to address all these inputs.
TMO: Are the questionnaires appropriate for the current state of the media landscape?
O’Neil: The SAARF Board has formed a Board sub-committee (mentioned above) to examine the current questionnaires in relation to the current media landscape and to potential future media landscape scenarios, based on both local and global trends. The sub-committee (which will meet monthly, beginning on 5 June) will give the industry regular feedback on its findings, progress and the way forward.
TMO: Will the upcoming Census data have an impact on SAARF?
O’Neil: I shouldn’t think so. The census data would not have an impact on the Foundation at all. It would however, contribute towards a clearer understanding of the country’s demographics.
TMO: Have you thought about how to deal with online and mobile, as the sector is growing rapidly, especially mobile?
O’Neil: Yes, the SAARF Board is fully cognizant of this rapidly growing sector. We have asked the DMMA to contribute as much as possible to the thinking around this area. Representatives from the print sector also have great knowledge of global trends in the online space, as do the broadcasters, as content moves from broadcast to digital platforms.
TMO: Is the DMMA represented at SAARF yet?
O’Neil: Yes, the DMMA is represented on the SAARF Board by its head of research and Exco member, Gustav Goosen. The DMMA has been encouraged to contribute as much as possible towards the thinking around the research challenges in the online and mobile sector. The SAARF Board will also engage the DMMA in terms of its contribution to the funding model, since the DMMA is not yet a contributor on this level.
TMO: Gordon Patterson recently said: “Value has become key as irresponsible pricing and discounting make ‘base’ analysis meaningless. To accomplish this, it’s now critical to understand platform trends, as value is only delivered at the point of exposure and not when the deals are done.” Your thoughts on that statement?
O’Neil: Mmmmm………… in my experience from the media owner world, marketers look for value on a number of levels, one of which is ROI on their advertising spend, which equates to price. I don’t believe that media owners are purposefully irresponsible in their pricing and discounting. In my experience, media owners’ pricing strategies determine how they can extract as much money as possible for their media type out of the marketplace or out of a particular sector. But I do hear what Gordon is saying from a media agency perspective, and I certainly believe that value is also delivered at the point of exposure.
TMO: Can you unpack your views on ‘future proofing’ some more? It’s an interesting concept.
O’Neil: The SAARF Board needs to ensure that we take this vital Foundation into the future. It’s true that there are debates around the funding model, and it’s true that various constituencies believe very strongly that the research models need to be re-looked and re-visited. It’s also absolutely true that the media landscape is changing rapidly and that we are all going to be affected by this new digital world, a world where, for example, the same content moves across various platforms. We can’t stand still or hold onto the status quo. We have to evolve, change and adapt to what is going on around us. But at the same time, we need to protect the concept of the Foundation.
It is to that end that I proposed that the SAARF Board itself forms a “future proof” sub-committee for the Foundation. It’s a term I borrowed from two of my friends – Peter McKenzie and Brenda Wortley – who coined the phrase…I thought it befitting to the work of the sub-committee.
TMO: What would be your macro vision for SAARF?
O’Neil: That SAARF produces world-class research in line with the ever-changing media landscape and our transforming society. And that the SAARF Board takes control of the Foundation, its future and its narrative: that’s its job. I would like to see SAARF moving forward and being seen as a dynamic and adaptable body.
TMO: What, in your eyes, are the biggest challenges the advertising/marketing industries are confronting at the moment?
O’Neil: Skills shortages, and training and development of young talent.
TMO: How are you going to manage your time? With a full time job, plus your position on the SABC Board, time must be quite tight for you! Firstly, DO you relax?
O’Neil: I relax every single weekend; I never work on the weekends!
TMO: What do you do to relax?
O’Neil: I spend time in my garden, visit my friends, watch my favourite TV shows, eat really good food at great restaurants, go away for weekends and spend time in the bush in Botswana.
TMO: What are you reading right now?
O’Neil: The Elephant Whisperer and one huge Board pack after the next!
TMO: And listening to in the car?
O’Neil: I only listen to 702; I love it!
TMO: Do you have a favourite ad?
O’Neil: I enjoy the OUTSURANCE ads.
TMO: And any that make you want to scream in horror?
O’Neil: I can’t think of any offhand, but then being from the advertising sales world, no ad makes me want to scream (I welcome them all!).
TMO: Who would you like to be stuck on a desert island with?
O’Neil: Bill Clinton – I’d like to hear about his wars with the Republicans!