The CEO of Target Media talks about the importance of consumer research, squeezed P&A budgets, and how new technology can benefit film campaigns.

Rob Wilkerson is founder and CEO of Target Media and Communications Group (Target MCG), which is the UK’s top entertainment media agency. He also serves on the board of Film London.

The privately-owned Target — founded in 1990 — has grown to 130 employees, with a turnover of $99m (£60m+) per year. Long-term clients include Revolver Entertainment, Vertigo, Icon, Metrodome and Soda Pictures.

Film and DVD represents about 46% of Target’s business.

Target MCG encompasses the following businesses: Target Media (media agency); Target Live (theatre/comedy/events), OTMentertain Creative and design, OTM (brand/design, also working on financial services and public sector and retail), Target Digital (digital media); Superhero (TV and other screen content creation); WLP (music production); Eyeball (research); and Organic Marketing (marketing/PR, recently bolstered by adding Emma McCorkell, Caragh Cook and Jenny Innes).

The company is also starting a new division, Film3Sixty, an integrated offering to span across all activities of what Target does. Chris Watts will be head of that business. (See separate news story on Target’s launch of Film3Sixty.)

“As a group we have a touchpoint into almost every part of the film business in the UK,” Wilkerson says.

What sets Target apart from other agencies?

We have film, games, music, theatre, venues, dance, festivals, vision, live entertainment, comedy. There’s no area that we’re not exposed to, and we’re the only agency in the UK that has all that under one roof with local ownership. It’s a big company in entertainment but it’s a small company in the market, we don’t want to be a corporate monolith.

We’ve got strategists, planners, designers, motion graphics editors all in house — so we can offer a genuine one-stop shop.

Also, a real point of difference for us is Eyeball, which is our own proprietary insight panel. That’s 3,000 people we talk to each month about a range of different subjects of the day. We can also test creative and get immediate response. Also this allows us to inform not only the creative campaign but how we’re going to interact with these people, their media usage and how that’s changing over time  — how they are spending more time online for instance.

How is media spend changing as the traditional theatrical windows shortening?

It’s an inevitable trend, I don’t really see it as a massive challenge to what we do. There are different skills in home entertainment and theatrical and they will continue to be, but we can offer those skills.

Windows are crashing at the moment. For us it’s about taking the product from the very beginning — even production — and starting communication with the consumer and stakeholders at that point. That’s not about spending loads of money on ads, that’s usually a social media strategy that has a consistency.  So it’s not just two big peaks of spending, you still have to promote and publicise it in the traditional way, but the advantage of being a one-stop agency is that we can take the key hooks of the campaign and we can continue that conversation with consumers.  So that when you come to spend on the second wave, your awareness is greater than it would have been before.

So it’s an end to end life cycle approach. Independent distributors are looking at their acquisitions based on that process but they’re not always approaching the marketing on that basis. Film3Sixty is an opportunity to establish that as the model of the future.

With P&A budgets being squeezed, are distributors changing their spends?

P&A budgets are squeezed and arguably that was an adjustment that was needed. P&A spends were running wildly out of control across the market until a couple of years ago. What we’ve benefitted from in the last couple of years is media deflation, costs of media were at 20 year lows in last two years, so whilst P&A spends were cut, it would still buy you largely the same amount of noise in the market. but that’s changed, this year we’ve returned to a fuller, stronger media market, especially TV, so prices are going up again. When clients are feeling particularly bullish or confident on particular projects, budget cuts don’t come into the mix. They will buy what they need to buy to force products through into consumer minds, and drive that one to see.

For us, they aren’t the biggest budgets in the world, but we’ve seen tremendous success with the likes of Unknown or Source Code for Optimum, even with a small indie gem like Submarine. And Revolver’s Anuvahood was probably pound for pound the biggest success we’ve been involved with in the last six months.

Do distributors need to think outside the box more and more?

Our clients are quite maverick, generally, and they are bold and brave and they chase the things that they believe in. Of course as an agency, we get the biggest kick out of trying new ways to reach people. And getting interaction with consumers, the film market across the board has been slow to pick up on digital marketing — not as slow as music was, but slower than games — it’s only now that it’s beginning to reach an industry average that online spend is where it should be. The trouble is that online is not just another channel, it’s a whole range channels and it takes specific content to get into those channels. it takes a product manager an extra 25% of their time and cost to create bespoke content for another channel. And at a time when resources are scarce in most companies, that’s a tricky ask. So I can understand why there has been the reticence to try new things, particularly at a time when TV is working for us. The death of the 30 second spot is nonsense. I think it’s incumbent on us as an agency to encourage our clients — sensibly — to test new avenues at a low level and a low cost.

Will Target move into more international work?

Not for film at the moment, but we do in games. We have dipped our toes into pockets in the States. We’ve looked at partnering with agencies that have a similar profile, but there aren’t many of them. On the games side, we handle global buying planning and creation. And social media by its definition is a genuinely global activity. But as to whether that will extend into distribution, I don’t see that on the near horizon. I think they are so many nuances in the individual markets.