No Risk, No Reward

For those of you who have had the pleasure of launching an online marketing campaign on an impossibly tight schedule, you know it takes a highly efficient media buying procedure to make it work. When the onus is on the media buyer to secure the buy and get the campaign underway, one wrong move can result in a domino effect of delays. It’s mind-boggling: To ensure the timely launch of our campaigns, we must be able to predict the outcome of each and every decision we make. Few of us enjoy a spotless record.

A series of media buying trials (and errors) prompted me to formulate a rather unorthodox analogy about this prickly business. As a child, I was captivated by “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These game-themed storybooks allowed the reader to determine the outcome of each adventure by choosing a desired path from a series of plot-altering options. Some paths led to success, others to disaster. And the right path could still elude you even after reading dozens of the things.

Media buying isn’t much different. The decisions we make, whether they relate to selecting appropriate site placements or choosing the best pricing model for an ad campaign, are perpetually influential. While our experience in the industry points us in the right direction more often than not, many decisions are case-specific and require us to stray from our standard approach. The real challenge, when the punctual launch of a campaign lies in the balance, is knowing when to take a risk.

I recently found myself in such a situation. I was planning a campaign for a client who needed to target a very specific market. He was adamant about using a cost-per-click (CPC) pricing model. The client had a site in mind that was ideal for the campaign. It was also very popular. The publisher had little difficulty selling out inventory and enforced a strict policy against accepting CPC campaigns.

The topic of the campaign came up as I was speaking with one of my network sales reps. By an uncanny stroke of luck, his office was located directly above the headquarters of the site my client was interested in. His network already had access to some of the site’s email inventory, and a restricted business partnership had been established. He knew about its CPC policy but was eager to get my client’s account. So, he offered to do a little in-person negotiating on my behalf.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would have called the portal myself. Having faith in my rep’s abilities and knowing his existing relationship with the site and proximity to the decision-makers there might increase the chances of closing the deal quickly, I looked at the clock, crossed my fingers, and sent him to work.

With less than a week to go before our launch date, my rep called. After much negotiation (and a little begging), he managed to secure my CPC placement and had even gotten approval on a laundry list of rather outrageous terms and conditions that my client had insisted be incorporated into the insertion order.

Awaiting the finalized contract a few days later, I was confident I had chosen the right path. My decision to leave the buy in the hands of a dependable ally was a wise one, I thought as I marveled at my foresight. Then, I received a panicked phone call from my rep. The site was rejecting the campaign. I listened in horror as he described the misunderstanding. Although my rep negotiated in gross rates, the portal was under the impression our budget was net. It was refusing the buy on the grounds that once it factored in our agency discount and subtracted the network’s sizeable cut, the smaller ad budget wouldn’t justify a CPC exception.

Back at square one, and time was running out. I still had a chance to get the campaign off the ground by going directly to the portal and cutting out the middleman to make the budget more appealing. With my rep’s consent and armed with the knowledge that the site’s no-CPC policy was more flexible than it let on, the buy was finalized and the campaign was launched, with seconds to spare.

Even with extensive experience in the industry and a sixth sense about media buying, we stray from standard procedure now and then — whether by chance or by choice. As we make decisions and take risks, the most we can do is hope for the best, plan for the worst, and be prepared for that next detour on the path to buy completion. Best of luck on your next adventure!

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