Publisher Relationships: Are You Naughty or Nice?

There are generally two schools of thought about how media buyers interact with publishers: kill them with kindness, or be tough as nails.

You’ve surely seen both scenarios played out by your colleagues in meetings or on calls with sales reps. The lucky ones are treated to questions that are valid but fair. They’re invited to go into great detail about their product or service (provided they can do so in the allotted time) and encouraged to stay in touch.

The rest are pummeled into submission.

Objectively, I can see how both approaches can coexist. Our relationship with site publishers necessitates that we view them as both partners and adversaries. We need each other and must work together for the good of our companies and clients. Yet we have our own interests to watch out for.

Still, there are advantages and disadvantages to each side. If you think you know which one you’re on, consider the following. You may choose to reevaluate your approach.

Be Nice: Mollifying Your Rep

In the early days of our business, a media buyer’s relationship with her publisher rep was a friendship to be held very close. Sites didn’t have nearly the volume of sales folk they do now. There was often only one rep for each geographic region, and that was that. If you were on the East Coast, you were assigned to the East Coast sales manager. Both parties had no choice but to make the relationship work.

As online ad spending has grown, so have sales forces. We’re no longer tied to one rep. Often, we’re introduced to agencies and encouraged to forge relationships with two or three key individuals to ensure our needs are always promptly met. Those sellers often work on an account as a team — a particularly lucrative arrangement when that account is a major agency with mind-boggling spending power.

Situations like this don’t reduce the need to get along with reps, they compel it. As you negotiate with your publisher sales team, don’t forget team members will be participating in negotiations of their own — for inventory and rate discounts on your behalf. And yours likely isn’t the only account they manage. The better your relationship with them, the more likely they’ll be to come to you with cool new opportunities first, and the more open they’ll be to working with you and your clients on unconventional ideas.

The drawback, of course, is you can come off as a pushover. Reps who believe they’re dealing with a sucker aren’t likely to give in to your requests, however sweetly you might put them. Next thing you know, you’re being labeled as naïve. When you’re preceded by that kind of reputation, holding your own in negotiations is virtually impossible.

Be Naughty: Taking What You Want

Some media buyers equate sales reps with order takers, so treat them as such. These are usually the same people who believe if you wave enough ad dollars, reps will happily take any amount of abuse. They’re also convinced they hold all the power in the buyer/publisher relationship. They’re the ones calling the shots, so they’re right to expect a certain amount of kissing up.

This is a pillage-and-plunder approach to dealing with publishers. We take what we want and move on. Of course, taking what you want from a media seller who doesn’t want to give it to can be challenging. Reps have the right to refuse you media. And if it’s between you and your more civilized competitor down the street, who do you think they’ll favor?

Before you promise a client site inventory or a discounted ad buy, think about your relationship with your sales reps. Have you been fair to them over the years? Were you honest about your clients’ plans? Did you do everything you could to stay true to your commitments? If reps don’t hold you in high regard, watch out. Your reputation in the online media industry will be the least of your concerns.

Which approach is best? The most successful buyers draw a little from each, in good measure. The result is a diplomat who’s seen as strong but reasonable and able to leverage this label for all its worth.

Publishers, what’s your point of view? Share your buyer stories for a future column by contacting me.

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