Listen to Your Enemy

My father always told me that everyone is worth listening to — even if it’s only to learn what not to say. As I grew older and more experienced, especially in the advertising field, I came to truly see the simple wisdom in that piece of advice.

People whom you think are great can clearly show you the best way to do something. And those whom you think aren’t as good as you, can show you how not to do something. (Of course, it could be the opposite: people you thought were great really don’t know what they’re doing, while those with a lesser reputation are the true luminaries.)

What does this have to do with online media? This week, something happened that really blew my mind. We recently lost the online display portion of an account (c’mon, it happens to the best of us), and we learned the new firm isn’t delivering the value to the client that we did. In fact, the firm is delivering exactly 66 percent less value. How do we know this? Because some media invoices were accidentally delivered to us. Turns out, the new agency is paying three times the rates we were paying for the same placements!

Many agencies are so sure of themselves and their superiority over the incumbent, they never really take a deep look — right down to the tactical level — at what their predecessors did. So here are some practical things to look at and research that can help you learn from the successes and failures of the poor souls whose account you bushwhacked:

  • Find out the rates they were paying for media. There are three primary sources for this: old media plans the client may still have, old online media result reports that show CPA (define) date based on CPM (define) and CPC (define) rates, and of course the reps.

  • Your creative team may be made up of the smartest people on the planet. But when it comes to knowing what worked online from a messaging and imagery standpoint, nothing will yield data like the old online media reports from the other agency. The reports will tell you what specific offers and images worked from a click-through and conversion standpoint. Reviewing this information will enable you to deduce the best offers to put in your new creative or at least learn what resonated with people so you can apply it to the new branding and marketing concepts you might be presenting.
  • Just like with creative, nothing will tell you more about which properties and placements are delivering the most receptive audiences than historical tracking reports. You can assume that the media people before you weren’t complete buffoons and at least tested the properties you’re thinking of testing. Why not learn from their testing, trial, and error?

Your clients should have all this data and, unless they are bound by a confidentiality clause about agency rates, should be able to share it with you. In fact, if they read this column they’ll learn how errant you are in not asking about it.

Even the most inept online media company will provide its clients with tracking reports. Learn from them. You are never so smart that you can’t learn form someone else, especially when it comes to learning what not to do. If you don’t pick up at least part of the optimization process where the other agency left off, you’re doomed to repeat at least some of its mistakes!

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