Making Stone Soup

Once upon a time, somewhere in the Western United States, there was a great famine. People jealously hoarded whatever targeted impressions they could find, hiding them even from their friends and neighbors. One day a peddler drove his wagon into an agency, sold a few of his run-of-site wares, and began asking questions.

“Well, what’s your client’s target? Maybe we have some premium inventory they might be interested in.”

The planners and buyers reply, “Our client is primarily interested in targeting women, 18-34, who are underwater basket weaving enthusiasts. How about some keywords?”

“Oh, well, I’m sorry, but all of our underwater basket weaving keyword inventory was sold as an exclusive to Acme Underwater Basket Weaving Yarn Manufacturing. How about some nice run of category in our rock-skipping category?”

This wouldn’t be such a problem if you could just buy around the site. But this is a major portal you’re dealing with. Or maybe second tier, but they are a player. And your client has said that they want a relationship with this site because the VCs on their board think it’s the BEST!

So what do you do? The site hasn’t any inventory and the pressure is on to get some placement.

Well, the boon (and the bane) of online advertising is that we get to wear many hats, and in this instance, you’re going to have to become a little bit business development and a little bit promotions and a little bit sales support staff.

First thing you should do is surf the site for any and all relevant placements. Sometimes you’ve got to drill down two or three levels to find something that might make sense. There are categories that end up being truly relevant that you just didn’t know about.

Next, if the client is really hard up for keywords, check out the source code of the home page. Maybe there are some metatags that would work great as keywords or keyword phrases that were overlooked by the competition.

Chances are, if this site is a client “must buy,” then there’s the likelihood of having a bit more money to spend on this given property than you might have were it a regular old test buy. Because of this, you might have enough leverage to work with a site to actually get them to raise a category of ultra-relative content closer to the surface, as it were.

This can be difficult if it is an advertiser in a small category. But use your knowledge of the advertiser’s industry to make the case for more prominent positioning. If you can explain that your client’s category is an $18 billion-dollar-a-year industry, maybe the site would be compelled to commit a move like this because it means creating inventory relevant to a category that consists of other advertisers.

Now, none of this is to say that it will be an easy go-around to get this kind of thing off the ground. Depending on who the property is, you will most likely experience a lot of back and forth. This is good, though. It is the sales rep’s job to come up with new ideas, and working together, you and the rep might just come up with some really awesome ideas. You figure, you know your client better than the sales rep does, but they know the site you’re looking to buy on better than you do. Working together, you can generate a best-of-breed buy for the client.

Finally, look for some “beyond the CPM” opportunities for areas that were either invented just for you or have little history of delivery. Cash and some rev share and maybe a few reciprocal links can be a great way to try something new for the client, give them a relationship beyond a vanilla media buy. And it minimizes the client’s financial exposure with a new piece of real estate.

Lo and behold! You have just created inventory that wasn’t there before. Just a little digging and creative thinking and you’re set. And don’t forget your rep, without whom none of this would be possible. It makes you look good. It makes the rep look good. And the client gets what they want. And everyone’s stomach is full of warm stone soup…

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