A New Role for Media Buyers

One of the features agencies sell themselves on is the relationships they’ve developed with media vendors in the industry. These relationships have existed for years in traditional media, but with Web properties appearing and disappearing so quickly, they can be even more challenging to sustain. Anyone buying online media, especially during the past year, has seen high turnover among these sales contacts, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain relationships with suppliers.

Building a history with suppliers has allowed agencies to pass on price savings and better service to their clients. Furthermore, a site or network may offer a good ad opportunity to a client, but if an advertiser is given low priority from a publisher and gets pushed aside, the value of the placement is lost, especially if the ads are time sensitive.

Busts Are Common

But an increasing concern today is the fact that publishers have been going bankrupt on a regular basis. You don’t want to be faced with a situation where a publisher goes under midway through your ad delivery, so it’s important to investigate publishers’ financial stability before committing to a buy. Imagine calling a client after you just spent $25K of the client’s media budget with a company that just closed its doors! Worse yet, you prepaid the order to get better pricing.

For example, AllAdvantage.com has been on life support for months now and has ceased all operations as of this week. There was a point last spring and summer when I was working with AllAdvantage regularly, mainly because it had excellent geotargeting capabilities. Our agency tends to service a lot of Canadian-specific clients that are interested in targeting only Canadian visitors. This ad inventory can be difficult to find, considering most major sites’ audiences are composed of only approximately three percent Canadians.

The AllAdvantage incentive program was a valuable asset to clients with these needs mainly because AllAdvantage gathered very detailed, accurate information on its audience. Users rarely gave up bogus contact info because they were receiving checks in the mail (at least until the business model was forced to change).

Another similar ad vehicle that has been losing momentum is the ad-supported, free Internet service provider (ISP) model. Naturally, its geotargeting capabilities are similar to AllAdvantage’s, since users have to provide their proper information to dial into a local server, thus making targeting by area code quite easy.

A good example of this service was 1stUp.com, one of many companies dropped by CMGI in the past few months. 1stUp was powering the customizable, free Internet service offered by many major portals. I recall my sales rep telling me in November about a new feature in development that would allow advertisers to target users by the content within Web pages being viewed. It was truly impressive, and I told her to call me when the company needed a guinea pig for testing. Three weeks later, my rep called to tell me the company was closing.

There are, however, a few companies still able to offer free Internet access and loyalty programs that have been more stable, but many players have been weeded out. Some examples similar to the AllAdvantages and 1stUps of the world that seem to be in better shape these days are The Spedia Network and Cybersurf’s 3web, a free Canadian ISP that offers beyond-the-banner advertising. I even saw a recent press release on 3web stating that it had sold out its inventory last month. (When’s the last time you heard that?)

Buyer Beware

Lately, keeping track of your suppliers’ sustainability has become a major part of the media buyer’s job description. There are a few sites that can help buyers stay abreast of corporate failures. For example, The Standard has added a component to its site that lists recent layoffs and company closings. (See Trackers under Tools & Services). Of course, there is also the ever-popular www.FuckedCompany.com that celebrates corporate failures.

Still, the best way to protect yourself and your clients from a hairy situation is to talk to your sales rep contacts a lot. These contacts are often your best source regarding how a company is performing, and they can alert you of a company’s imminent demise before you see it in the headlines. The old rules still apply; your relationships are still your greatest resource.

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