Lost in Translation

There’s a communication gap between media buyers and sales reps. It’s not that we don’t try to relate to one another or that we aren’t striving toward achieving a mutual goal. The barrier lies in the language we use. For some reason, we just can’t seem to speak a common one.

This phenomenon is most patently displayed when vendors visit agencies to pitch their properties and products. On more than one occasion, they’ve left my team scratching our heads. What exactly did they say they can offer? What can we assure our clients they’ll get?

Much of the problem is the terminology sales reps use; it isn’t always consistent with the industry terms we buyers employ.

Something gets lost in the translation.

Contextual Advertising Vs. Content Targeting

Ask a buyer or planner to define contextual advertising or contextual targeting, and you’ll get a response that invariably incorporates the phrase “ads delivered based on page context.” So when we ask a rep whether he’s able to offer contextual advertising to our clients, the above definition is what’s firmly planted in our minds.

It’s a little confusing, then, when that rep responds with a resounding yes, only to describe something quite different. Sure, it’s great our clients can choose a category of sites like Sports or Women and have their ads delivered across that channel. But that’s not contextual advertising — it’s content targeting. And there’s little overlap between it and the contextual ad serving technology that allows us to target on a much deeper level.

We’re Not Blind

One of the first questions we ask ad networks is whether they’re transparent or blind. In other words, do they willingly volunteer a list of every site our clients’ ads will be appearing on? Or do they assure us the ads will be limited to sites that mesh with our content specifications but keep specific site names to themselves?

Knowing which sites an advertiser’s banners will run on isn’t essential for all campaigns. But it is key for prominent companies that have a solid brand image to uphold and can’t risk having that image tarnished by a negative site association. For this reason, blind networks don’t always receive as warm a welcome as the more accommodating variety. Their reps, then, aren’t eager to admit this shortcoming.

Those who can’t produce a site list might try to compensate by naming two or three sample sites and insisting they aren’t blind. Reps should remember, though, buyers will be far more likely to work with you on an ongoing basis if you’re forthcoming about the nature of your network. Remember that expression about teaching a man to fish? Give a buyer the knowledge he needs to create a successful campaign, and there will be many filets coming your way, instead of a single free lunch.

The Truth About Sponsorships

“Sponsorship” is an amorphous term that frequently causes conflict between buyers and reps. When buyers think of site sponsorships, we picture ownership of a site section, an exclusive presence that includes banners, buttons, logos, and the like. Many sites, however, don’t include quite so much coverage in their sponsorship placements. They’ll offer a logo placement to accompany your banner buy and call it a sponsorship, when in fact it’s little more than bonus inventory.

The problem also exists in reverse. You might hear the term “roadblock” used to describe what’s simply a site section sponsorship on a single property instead of a coordinated takeover of several sites. This is a misnomer that can perplex buyer and client alike.

Though buyers and reps all work in the same industry, the media publishing and purchasing worlds are actually quite different. It isn’t uncommon for language and media jargon to follow suit. The bottom line is to know what to expect; reps and buyers shouldn’t presume the terminology we use is being accurately interpreted by other parties involved. Hash out all the details before you make your buy, right down to requesting a written overview of what you’ll be getting and, where possible, a screenshot of the placement at hand.

Additionally, if the language your reps use isn’t consistent with what your agency relies on when interfacing with clients, make the necessary translations rather than sticking to the terms that appear in your insertion order or internal media plan. Regardless of his knowledge level where online media is concerned, your client will appreciate the uniformity. And as long as the buys keep rolling in, your rep won’t mind the freeform interpretation.

Reps and buyers, have you ever found yourself “lost in translation?” Share your stories with me for a future column.

Join us for our Online Video Advertising Forum in New York City, June 16, 2006.

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