Understanding Seller Woes

They say the best doctors were once patients. They begin to understand the feelings of dependence and fear associated with illness. The root is the concept of empathy, the ability to put ourselves in another person’s position. I was recently forced to do this as I listened to an aggregation of complaints and issues from leading Web publishers related to the agency community.

Now, my knee-jerk reaction to these complaints was disgust, dismissal, anger, and belligerence (being a true agency guy). On a number of occasions, I’ve urged my colleagues on the sales side of the business to just grow up. That said, there’s a lot of value to be gained by putting yourself in their shoes and trying to understand where they’re coming from.

Work with me here.

Terms and Conditions

The sellers put two primary issues on the table. One was standard terms and conditions (T&C). Now, if you’re anything like me, you hope you never have to hear that phrase again (and pray someone will just send you a postcard when the issue is sorted out). After nine years and billions of dollars of business, this industry is still plagued by ongoing T&C issues.

The sellers’ major gripe about standard T&C is there aren’t any standards. They claim agencies regularly change the body of the T&C document and force sellers’ legal teams to review it with a fine-toothed comb to uncover what’s been changed. Often an agency has multiple iterations of terms based on specific client needs. Finally, in instances where addenda are created to accompany the standard document, they’re sometimes longer and more complex than the original.

I understand publishers’ frustration. There’s no doubt unresolved T&C issues place undue stress on the buyer-seller relationship, reduce efficiencies, and make it more difficult for us all to do business. There’s no silver bullet, but a best practice at the very least would be to keep the original T&C document as is. If need be, add an addendum (so sellers could keep track of the changes). Another best practice may be to take a page out of the broadcast TV playbook and move toward an industry based on relationships, mutual respect, and common understanding (but hey, that’s just me).

Late Creative

The other major concern the sellers voiced was late creative. They claim this problem is completely out of control and having a significant negative impact on their business. They believe if a buy is placed to begin on a specific day, you own the inventory. If you don’t have the client’s default creative or any other creative to supply, you’ll simply be billed for the impressions you’ve contracted for. Period.

Again, I understand their concerns. Late creative can wreak havoc on already tenuous inventory management systems (being a media guy, I also know this is sometimes well out of my control). From my perspective, the issue transcends legality. As those of us who have studied version 2.0 of the standard T&C know, publishers have every right to hold us and our clients financially responsible for late creative or any other deliverable that impedes a campaign’s launch.

But publishers fear enforcing such a policy. As they’ve been so flexible for so long and haven’t held clients or agencies financially responsible, maintaining that policy may make them less likely to win agency/client business in the future.

Though this may be the case, we all need to assume some responsibility. If an agency knows it has a 30-second spot airing on the “American Idol” finale, rest assured it’ll have the creative done on time. We must apply the same sense of urgency to the interactive space.

If all else fails, let’s err on the side of over-communicating. Typically, creative and production delays don’t happen overnight. If a publisher is informed well ahead of schedule there may be a problem with a deadline (as opposed to the night before), it may be in a better position to reallocate inventory and accommodate your needs.

Now that wasn’t so painful, was it?

David is off this week. Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

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