Dealing With Reps

Media representatives have their ups and downs. It can be amusing to make fun of the stereotypes and extremes (don’t you think for a minute that they don’t spend half their time deservedly making fun of us buyers), but they really do serve some useful purposes.

Why Are They Useful?

Of course the first thing you think of is getting those Cubs tickets or a lunch at Hyde Street Bistro. In dirty politics we’d call that “payola,” but in the media industry it seems to be acceptable. But this isn’t why reps are useful.

We agency folks have different objectives for every client and for every campaign. The site people have all sorts of different media, sliceable in all sorts of ways. To pretend like there’s one right way to buy or sell this media for instance, by CPM is lunacy. These different needs require different types of media packages. And these different types of media should be packaged to meet those needs by reps. We could no more say a rep is unnecessary than to say a media planner is unnecessary.

Reps should be bringing us creative ideas to solve our particular objectives. But here’s the rub: This requires that we tell them what our objectives are and that the reps sit down and spend the time to truly put together something more useful than their stock packages.

Here we find two major problems. First, on our side, we’re often queasy about telling reps too much about our campaigns. We often operate on a need-to-know basis, thinking that the more information we have, the more powerful a negotiating position we put ourselves in. Worse still, it requires us to invest a great deal of time talking with many reps.

On the other side, not very many reps bother to venture off their rate card or their site’s “special of the month.” Too many requests for proposals come back with cookie-cutter answers.

To really do the job right, you need a buyer and a seller who can trust each other to put in the due diligence. Otherwise, neither is going to want to bother going through the motions. This might be the only rationalization as to why it might be a good thing that reps spend all that money taking buyers out for drinks. To the degree that these personal relationships develop, that trust can allow the two to invest the time to be creative.

Until, of course, the buyer quits the agency a month later and turns up somewhere else.

Problems With Reps

You can criticize reps all you want about their being slick and sleazy and all the other words typically used to describe a sales department, but those are mere personality issues. Here’s my list of the most substantive problems my buyers have faced with sellers.

    The Needy Rep: This is the person who calls on a set schedule. It’s not that this rep has anything truly new to tell you, but that he or she is afraid his or her boss will get mad if he or she can’t say that he or she has spoken to you in the past four weeks. Buyers don’t need these calls taking up their time, and they can smell tickler files through the phone line.

    The Guilt Tripper: Usually as a direct result of not returning the calls of the needy rep, the needy rep becomes a guilt tripper. Buyers really don’t want to talk to someone who whines into their dwindling voicemail megabytes with complaints about how the buyer never calls him or her. This works about as well as it did in high school, trying to keep that star-crossed relationship alive.

    The Loudmouth: Sometimes a rep gets a little hush-hush, looks from one side to the other, and then tells you some juicy bit of info about the competition. This isn’t doing his or her site any favors. Buyers are generally smart enough to know that dealing with this person will likely put their own clients’ information on the market.

    The Company Man: A rep who refuses to budge from rate-card structures to consider more creative media packages can be written off. If the function of the rep is merely to wine, dine, and then negotiate a CPM, then we can do it by email and save a lot of time.

Rep Management

I think sellers frequently don’t realize that our biggest issue is time management. It’s a game to most sellers, where they play against one another to see who can claim more of our time, thinking that this will lead to a corresponding share of budgets. We simply have to be honest about what we’re looking for. To whit, here are the four things buyers must do to make their relationships with reps more sane and useful:

  1. Select a relevant group of reps and make sure they are well briefed as to your upcoming campaign objectives and needs. Be proactive about this, rather than choosing to tell those who happen to call in a given week.

  2. Say no to reps, and don’t succumb to any guilt trips. If you’re speaking on the phone with a rep and you don’t think he or she is going to give you what you want, tell him or her to send you an email with details and promise to read it. And then actually read it. And maybe even respond with a quick email thank-you so he or she knows you can be trusted. If a rep persists too much in trying to get your time, tell the rep explicitly that his or her best chance of making a future buy entails leaving you alone.
  3. Send out detailed RFPs to a manageable number of sites, encouraging them to bring you creative packages. Make sure all of these are reviewed and that they receive a response. If you find yourself filing these RFPs without much consideration, you need to reduce the number of requests you send.
  4. When you grant meetings to reps, schedule them precisely. I advise folks to make these meetings no longer than half an hour, if it’s not the first meeting with this site. An optimal time is 20 minutes; otherwise, the remaining 40 minutes of a scheduled hourlong meeting will often be filled with banter and irrelevant site promotion.

Once reps sense that they can trust you to be on time, to give them a fair shake, and to give them the right information, they will serve you better than they serve everyone else. In addition to saving a great deal of time, it can be a great competitive advantage to you and your agency.

Related reading