The success or failure of an interactive agency is determined as much by the strength of its relationships as the depth of its expertise. A good media plan and killer creative can dazzle a client and create a successful campaign. But ultimately, it is the high level of service excellence that creates a satisfied customer.
Agencies understand the importance of client relationships. Regular phone calls, periodic visits, and honesty all help to generate a happy customer. Not only do satisfied clients stick around, they also add value to the agency by becoming referral accounts.
Most successful agencies excel in client relationships. But agencies do not often recognize the full value that can be realized from building relationships with the publishers from which they buy media.
Obviously, the sales rep is the most important of these contacts. The sales rep negotiates rates, processes insertion orders, and provides the majority of the customer service to an agency.
But remember: A site or network selling ad space is more than the sum of its sales reps; there is also the other side of the sales organization responsible for the smooth operations of advertising campaigns. Usually reporting to an organization’s VP of Sales, the traffickers, production managers, quality assurance and rich media specialists that make up an ad operations department all play an integral part in both scheduling a campaign and maintaining its quality over time.
Though working in the background, the operations department often has a hand in driving the publisher/agency relationship.
For example, agencies are notorious for pushing campaigns back to the last moment. When the creative is finally submitted, the agency usually expects the campaign to be scheduled immediately. This adds additional pressure to a publisher’s overworked operations department, and can create acrimonious feelings towards an agency. Over time, these embers of frustration can flare up into a total breakdown of the publisher/agency relationship, forcing a sales rep to work overtime in re-establishing trust and goodwill.
It’s a vicious cycle, where the delays in executing a campaign caused by ill will on the part of traffickers will lead to more criticism of a publisher’s operations by an agency. In the end, everyone loses when advertisers catch wind of this antagonistic relationship.
As campaign operations manager at Avenue A Media, I interact with a publisher’s ad operations department every day. Issues I regularly address include third-party serving questions, rich media creative testing, and trafficking procedures. There are often disagreements, contractual and otherwise, that require me to stand firm on our policies. When these situations arise, it’s helpful to focus on the issue at hand rather than allow the disagreement to spiral downward into a place you really don’t want to go. A healthy mutual respect makes these kinds of relationships possible.
Here are a few suggestions that go a long way towards creating an atmosphere of cooperation and partnership between agencies and the publishers’ ad operations department:
- Get some face time. If your agency has the resources, jump on a plane and visit San Francisco and New York, the two major hubs of established publishers. Schedule some time with your daily operations contacts, and invite their managers as well. The simple act of meeting these important operations personnel goes a long way in establishing good will.
- Discuss the process. Agencies and publishers have their own policies and procedures governing how ad campaigns are executed. Take the time to diagram the campaign execution process from beginning to end; conversely, ask to see how a publisher handles your client’s creative and other ad materials. Understanding the differences is the first step towards improving the way agencies and publishers work together from an operations standpoint.
- Evangelize your agency. Often times, ad operations personnel only know your agency as representing the clients buying media on their site. Pitch the bigger picture. Promulgate your agency’s philosophy and future growth plans. Talk about your success stories; give examples of how advertising on the publisher’s web site has helped your clients. Though sales reps hear this information all the time, operations personnel rarely have an opportunity to understand your agency’s business.
- Find solutions. Use the knowledge gained from each other to make better processes. For example, if your agency uses a third party ad serving solution, work with the publisher to find a better way to track counting issues. If your weekly reports aren’t arriving on schedule as promised, find out what it will take to assure timely delivery.
- Buy some pizza. If a trip is out of the question, call a pizza place near the publisher’s offices, and send the ad ops staff some lunch. Granted, it will be difficult to accomplish many of the ideas I’ve discussed above without actually having made a visit; however, a stomach full of pizza is a great start towards building good will.
The payoff comes immediately. In place of hostility and suspicion grown out of misunderstanding, trust and cooperation emerge. Campaign execution improves. Errors decrease.
Best yet, you’ve created champions within a publisher’s organization who understand an agency’s operational point of view. This last point is critical when you are trying to move forward with new technologies or processes that significantly impact the publisher’s operational status quo.
Ultimately, and most importantly, the client benefits when the agency/publisher relationship strengthens. Less friction with publishers translates into a decrease in possible client disappointment, that in turn adds to overall customer satisfaction. In an industry where competition is fierce, and where client retention is an absolute necessity, pursuing additional working relationships with a publisher makes all the sense in the world.