Media expert forecasts boom

A MAJOR upturn in the media business and the economy in general was predicted by influential British advertising and media commentator Martin Sorrell in Dublin yesterday.

Mr Sorrell, chief executive of the giant WPP group, told the 56th World Newspaper Congress the Olympic Games and a US presidential election would be the main factors behind a global upturn.

He told the 1,200 newspaper editors, executives and publishers attending the three-day event that 2008 would represent the beginning of another boom period in Western economies.

However, Hans-Peter Rohner, chief executive of the giant Swiss PubliGroupe, said the industry was experiencing its first truly global downturn since World War II and needed to adapt its strategies to win through.

Suggesting they apply the Chinese concept of "crisis" which is represented as signifying both danger and opportunity he said newspapers should push for market share and expand their marketing and creativity even as competitors were cost-cutting.

Mr Sorrell, who is widely respected in advertising and media circles for his predictions on economic trends, numbers Ford, Unilever and IBM among the clients of his WPP group. He warned media groups they must follow global demographic trends and try to tap into markets in Russia, China and Argentina.

Mr Sorrell was among a group of speakers who emphasised the growing importance of Asian markets like China to media groups. Stressing that by 2014 two-thirds of the world's population would live in the Asia pacific region, he said companies needed to do more to target heavily populated areas.

Zhu Xinmin, vice-president of The People's Daily based in Beijing, told the congress the Chinese industry had expanded tenfold in the past 20 years.

"All this has made a great contribution to China's reform and development," he added. His newspaper has a 3m daily circulation.

"Newspapers have become one of the fastest developing industries in China as well as an important power in the process of Chinese economic development," said Mr Zhu. Growth had fuelled fierce competition in the industry.

Mr Sorrell said he was often described as a pessimist, but he favoured the phrase "serial realist" rather than "serial pessimist". He said while some of his presentation suggested good news was on the way, there would be no return to the explosive growth levels of the 1990s.

Mr Sorrell is credited as being the first media commentator to warn the early signs of recovery could just be "a flash in the pan". However, he has modified this view in recent months.

In the short term he expected the advertising industry to grow, but at reduced rates compared to the 1990s. But 2004 would be a better year because of the European Football Championships, the presidential election in the US and the Olympic Games.

He said all these events historically involved pumping more money into the global economy, particularly into areas directly related to media and advertising.

Explaining the link between the US presidential elections and the global economy, he said: "No president goes to the country without a strong economy."

He selected 2008 as the year for a major boom as the Olympic Games were due to be held in China and the government there had committed itself to spending 38.5 billion on infrastructural improvements. This would provide a huge windfall for western firms and stimulate economic activity around the world, he said.

The US and British governments had run up huge deficits to fund the second Gulf War, but the war itself had a minimal effect on business, which came as "a little bit of a surprise". Television networks in the US were forced to spend $1 million a day covering the war and while this was costly, advertising had remained remarkably consistent.

The board of the World Association of Journalists, meeting in Dublin yesterday, strongly condemned the jailing of independent journalist and poet Raul Rivero and 25 of his Cuban journalist colleagues.

Earlier this year, the government of Fidel Castro jailed the journalists for terms of 12 to 27 years. "The charges brought against Mr Rivero, a member of the WAN press freedom committee, and his colleagues were unfounded, the procedures unfair and their convictions unjust," the board said.

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