Posted by: Andrew | May 4, 2008

Bring it on

The specter of a recession has caused a lot of pundits, gurus and insiders to ponder the near future of Web advertising. The fact that economic troubles are still in the forecast probably won’t make anyone feel any better. Also looming are reports that online ad growth should experience a natural slowdown after years of running on afterburners.

And it may be that trouble lies ahead. But I wonder, could all this uncertainty be a good thing for media companies? I think so.

My reason is simple: challenging times bring out the best in tech companies. As has often been cited, the boom-and-bust cycle of the last growth period taught many Web firms to be thrifty and to focus on building solid businesses rather than on issuing IPOs during their earliest, most unpredictable years.

And the current period should yield similar effects. When faced with the prospect of a slimmer client list, depressed earnings and possible layoffs, online media will be forced to improve. But make no mistake: This is not simply about bracing for an austere economic downturn. It’s about the big picture, about strengthening our businesses to better serve consumers over the long run. Call it adaptation. In advertising, that means developing ads that give marketers what they need: greater ROI, better metrics, more accountability, and content that consumers actually like and respond to.

Thus far, online media have weathered this recessionish event well, and most of the industry bellwethers say they’re optimistic. Strong earnings growth from Google followed by more measured growth from Yahoo imply that, if anything, recent financial and economic instability has already motivated companies to cut some inefficiencies and create more robust product offerings. Of course, the other story is that we will also see many companies merge with others or fold entirely if they don’t have the brains or the chutzpah to stay alive. It’s kind of unnerving and undeniably Darwinian, but when we pass through this period online media should be all the stronger.

Let’s use this as an opportunity to get to know ourselves. We should question our business models as well as the choices we’ve made and figure out how to thrive in a new media marketplace. We need to think about deliverables and results. Most of all, we need to get creative and get to work.

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