Get ready for a new media world

A new jobs market is opening up as advertisers turn to the Internet, writes Richard Cook
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There used to be one simple formula for deflecting conversation about your work life: you simply said you were "something in the City". Today you can bank on the same hushed incomprehension with the reply "something in new media".

"We've operated a new media recruitment arm for three years now," says Andrew Swift, director at the recruitment specialists Price Jamieson, "and the growth and development in that time have been enormous. I've never known anything like it. New media is starting to become a proper industry."

But what is new media? Price Jamieson has identified four broad areas of opportunity in the new media jobs market: business development, which includes the crucial growth area of selling new media opportunities to advertisers; content development, requiring journalistic skills; design, which is attracting graphic designers whose skills are as applicable to designing Web pages as magazine covers; and programming, the techies whose role is likely to become less pivotal as they help make the new media marketplace more user-friendly.

What is changing now is that new media knowledge is slowly being wrested from the hands of the smaller, technology-centred companies into the arms of the international giants, and with that comes a need for media workers with a broader skills base. Marketing and media skills are already starting to count for more than simple technological expertise, for example. "We believe new media will rapidly be integrated into everything we do, and the jobs market, except for IT specialist positions, will increasingly call for the full range of marketing and media skills," says Swift.

The growth thus far has been largely driven by the need to find people who know their RAM from their Rom. Advertisers don't want to know how the medium works, they want to be convinced of how it works best for them.

"Our members - and they include Britain's biggest companies - are very positive about the effects new media will have and are having," says John Hooper, director general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers. "We have just conducted a survey of nearly 200 of them and found that nearly a fifth were already planning to advertise on new media by other means than merely creating their own Web site. It's obviously not going to replace mainstream media in the short term but it is going to keep growing fast. There is a real need for more qualified guides, though, to help clients negotiate their way through this new media jungle."

It helps that the new media marketplace is also becoming littered with household names on the technical side. It all started with the launch late last year of the first Internet service provider with a name anyone might recognise. Virgin Net became at a stroke the first brand-name Internet service of the more than 150 already available.

The demystification of new media took another leap forward earlier this month with confirmation that British Interactive Broadcasting would launch next year. BIB is the creation of four blue-chip partners - BSkyB and BT, Midland Bank and the Matsushita Electric Company, and promises to offer interactive opportunities for advertisers as well as Internet access for consumers from, crucially, the familiar surroundings of their own TV screens. This initiative and others like it from the cable TV companies promise to democratise new media by increasing its penetration and drawing in increased advertising revenue.

The infrastructure to support such a leap is already starting to appear. At the end of last year the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the body that certifies newspaper and magazine sales, set up a dedicated interactive arm to measure how many people really were visiting Web sites.

"We have this week just awarded our first certificate for a Web site," says Richard Foan, the head of ABC/interactive, "and certainly this helps to attract the advertisers new media needs to keep on growing. In the US our sister company awarded its first certificate in June last year, and has certified 60 sites since then."

The next stage is for new media to be corralled within the overall advertising mix so that the transfer of skills from, for example, a direct marketing agency to one specialising in new media will be even easier. It's already starting to happen.

"We're working on a campaign now alongside an ad agency, a PR company and a direct marketing agency," says Mark Dickinson, a partner at the new media agency indexfinger, "and we're all sharing information and borrowing skills from each other. The days when someone working in new media was expected both to be able to write the technical language HTML and copywrite an ad are thankfully over. And that's got to be good news for the new media jobs market".