Ad Technology vs. Agency: Who Has the Advertiser’s Ear?

If you work agency side, this kind of situation might sound all too familiar to you: you have a relationship with a client to provide online media planning services. A Web publisher or technology company comes out with some newfangled online advertising solution they want to pitch to your advertising client. They’ve identified your client, may or may not know that your agency is in the picture, but regardless they make the pitch to the client without your knowledge. Now they have your client’s attention. This new technology may not jibe with your strategy for this client, let alone other issues like integration, budget, timetables, etc. What do you do? Can you avoid this kind of situation in the future?

The reality is this: outside companies will always be pitching your advertiser. Sales people wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t. You must educate your client on how to handle these kinds of pitches and why it’s important for them to involve you in the process. Here are some points to keep in mind:

Save Your Client Valuable Time

Though some ad technology pitches can be a total waste of everyone’s time, you don’t know until you listen (or at least get some preliminary information so you can make a judgment call). Encourage your client to use you as a filter. They hired your agency for its expertise in this field, so why not let you run interference for them. Tell your client that they should respond to pitches by telling the publisher or technology company to contact you first.

You Want to Hear About These New Pitches

If your client gets the pitch rather than you, that doesn’t mean you should be disinterested. I’ve preached many times that our industry evolves so quickly, we all have to be open-minded, steady students of our craft. New pitches for ad technologies help us learn and promote new opportunities for all clients, not just the select few who may have received that pitch.

Great New Technology, Wrong Time to Be Testing It

Advertisers (God bless them) have a tendency to be wowed by bells and whistles. Problems occur when even the latest and greatest whiz-bang solution has no place in the advertiser’s current strategy…the strategy they already signed off on. If adopting this new technology takes the strategy off course, then what? Does the strategy need to be modified going forward? What if implementing this new technology takes all kinds of integration that no one planned or has budgeted for? How does that affect timelines that may already be in motion? And who bears responsibility for this new course if it fails to produce results?

Bad or Unproven Technology Can Degrade a Brand

Worse than getting excited over a great new technology is having your advertiser get excited over a bad one. Not all new technologies are proven or trouble-free. Some technologies infringe upon privacy, a big hot button these days. When problems go awry in a public arena, it can be bad for a brand’s image. Aim to protect your client’s brand by encouraging them to involve you in their technology evaluation process.

Be Proactive

I’m a big proponent of fostering positive mutually beneficial relationships with publishers and technology providers. I encourage ours to let us know about their developments and participate in beta testing if possible. To that end, there’s no harm in reaching out to them from time to time and asking them what they’ve got going on. It also makes you more educated in advance of the client asking.

The Publisher’s and Technology Provider’s Perspective

In advance of writing this piece, I reached out to a dozen or more publishers and ad technology providers to see how they handle the “agency monkey-in-the-middle.” The responses I got back fall in line with the kind of publisher or tech provider an agency would like to see, e.g.:

1. How do you manage advertiser pitches, particularly for new ad opportunities or technologies you might have, when the advertiser already has an agency?

  • Most respondents said, “We approach both.” Several expressed a desire to first work with the agency because the combined force can be more persuasive to the advertiser and better programs can be built by working directly with the agency. Words like trust and respecting the relationship came up often.

2. If you’re unaware of an advertiser-agency relationship to begin with – do you ask the advertiser about this or just present the opportunity to the advertiser regardless?

  • Some will make a point of asking the advertiser or try to do their due diligence ahead of time, though some default and wait for the advertiser to bring up the fact they have an agency.

I’m sure a few readers from all sides of this topic can come up with some other helpful points. Please add yours by commenting below.

Thanks to Comcast, Kontera, iExplore, and AdBrite for their responses, and special thanks to loyal ClickZ reader Ken Nicholas of MindOnMediaSales for the inspiration of this column idea.

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