Competing With Your Own Clients

One of the most frustrating situations you can get into in the agency-side interactive media business is the one in which a client can’t decide who handles the media buys. Many of us have come up against this situation – clients insist on handling certain advertising deals themselves and ask the agency to concentrate its efforts elsewhere.

Most often, this situation arises between the agency and the client’s business development department. Roles tend to overlap most often when it comes time to cut high-profile portal deals.

Biz Dev will often argue that good relationships with the portals are crucial to the success of the client’s business, and that a relationship should contain components that extend beyond advertising. Frankly, it’s a good argument. Problem is, inexperienced clients can get themselves into a good deal of trouble by signing off on multi-million dollar arrangements without consulting the agency.

For agencies, client-negotiated deals can be problematic because they are often not subjected to the same selection process and ROI-centric analysis as other deals on the media plan. As a result, they tend not to pay out as well as agency-negotiated deals. Not only does this waste media dollars, but it also closes off a perfectly good media opportunity to the agency.

It goes without saying that most agencies would like to handle these deals for their clients. But how can an agency convince its clients that it’s better positioned to handle these deals than Biz Dev?

  • Move toward the “Planner-as-Relationship-Steward” model. I’ve been advising agencies to let their media departments handle non-advertising deals for a while now. If you position yourself as a relationship steward rather than an advertising person, you’ll open the door to handle all sorts of new deals for your clients.

  • Convince your client that your experience is relevant. While many dot-com business relationships involve more than advertising, ads always seem to make up a component of the deal. Ask your client to, at the very least, let you make sure that the advertising components of the deal are in line with the other media venues on your plan.
  • Share a scary stat: A study by Jupiter Communications released in April revealed that fewer than 5 percent of online retailers said they were “very likely” to renew their portal tenancies. I bet the percentage of renewals by online retailers on your client roster is higher. Share this.
  • Have a talk with the client about how this makes your job more difficult. Most media vendors that can bypass an agency by going directly to the client will do so. Managing relationships becomes more difficult for the agency when vendors “go direct.” Make sure the client knows this (and knows about the volume of calls they will receive once word gets out that someone got money out of the client directly).

Handling non-advertising relationships between two interactive companies is a natural evolution in the responsibilities of an online media planner. Be sure that you earn your clients’ trust so that they can see you as a resource for handling these types of relationships.

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