Change Management

The last few years have brought big changes to the vendors and ad networks media buyers know and love. Technological advances in online advertising introduced new players to the scene, while drops in ad spending forced others to fade into the background. In what seemed like a matter of months, many top suppliers underwent major face lifts, changing their missions, their service offerings, sometimes even their names.

The enormity of this phenomenon hit home recently when our agency decided to tackle the mammoth project of updating our internal vendor database. We were aware changes were taking place. As with most industries, online advertising companies constantly reinvent themselves. Admittedly, we’d done a poor job keeping on top of our vendors’ activities. Not only were many contact names in our database grossly outdated, but company functions were mislabeled also. This suggested their current roles are either unfamiliar to our agency or just plain misunderstood.

It’s only been two years since the last overhaul of this indispensable tool. Already, the information in it was virtually useless.

For a group with a professional responsibility to be aware of all online marketing options and thoroughly familiar with their merits and downfalls, this benightedness is cause for concern. How can media buyers effectively meet clients’ online marketing objectives if they aren’t educated in available media opportunities?

Generating media plans in such a haphazard fashion is unfair to not only the advertisers we represent but also media suppliers who rely on our ad budgets. Happily for all parties, there’s an easy way to establish whether your buyers have fallen victim to this curse. All it takes is a quick assessment of the buys they’ve made lately.

If your planners and buyers continuously return to the same handful of vendors, it’s a clear sign their knowledge of the ad vendor industry is limited, regardless of a campaign’s nature or objectives. Considering planners and buyers tend to discuss campaigns internally and probe one another for counsel, it’s easy to see how a limited list of vendors can get the lion’s share of an agency’s business.

Sometimes, this is produced by the business’s gregarious nature. Media buyers communicate with hundreds of vendors over the course of their careers. Personalities are likely to mesh among just a few. Camaraderie with a select group of reps is sure to compel buyers to send a little extra business their way (reps know this to be true, which explains their tendency to befriend agency contacts).

The inclination to favor specific vendors can damage a campaign. A friendly sales rep does not a suitable media buy make. Expanding buyer knowledge of the legion of industry ad vendors helps discourage this type of professional favoritism.

Educating buyers on the current state of the media vendor arena isn’t something achieved overnight. Piecing together news clips to determine L90 now operates under MaxWorldwide’s banner; the Phase2Media network closed its doors in 2001; and MusicVision sells placements in TV’s “Fear Factor” e-newsletter can be a terribly time-consuming process.

Expect this to involve a lot of phone calls, fact checking, and online detective work. One source that’s proven helpful in turning our own agency into a team of talented sleuths is internetnews.com [owned by ClickZ’s corporate parent -Ed.].

Once your internal database of vendors is fully up to date, it’s important to ensure it stays that way. Have your team sign up for e-newsletters from Internet Advertising Report, atNewYork.com, or boston.internet.com [all owned by ClickZ’s corporate parent -Ed.]. Encourage your team to plug in any pertinent information they unearth.

Most media vendors also keep their buyers informed of company changes via email press releases. Staying on top of their activities is often as simple as reviewing these messages instead of blindly deleting them.

This project requires a serious upfront commitment, but it pays off grandly in the long run. It’s worth investing your team’s time to keep educated to give your agency a competitive edge.

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