Walking The Media Buyer Walk

I was recently given the assignment of leading a group of media planners in developing a “strategy overview” for a potential client. For this assignment, the parameters were simple: 1) be creative, and 2) do it in three days.

A bit of a rush job, maybe but I was undeterred. The potential client had the finances to support bold, creative, beyond-the-banner propositions.

After brainstorming with my team — we generated many ideas, some great and some feeble — I decided to get on the phone with vendors for help with brainstorming. The reasoning was this: Vendors know their sites best, and they would be able to produce the cleverest and most feasible ideas for us.

We didn’t ask for the moon. We asked for a mere 15 minutes of their day to come up with a few ideas unique to their sites, with few budget restraints. We demanded explicitly: Give us more than banners. Be creative! Get crazy! We also told them that this is preliminary research, and a concrete plan would not be proposed for at least one month.

Simple directions right? You’d think so .

So What Happened?

Well, a lot less than I expected.

At first, I was delighted to see several proposals come in. But then I read them. All but one of the proposals centered on CPM-based, banner advertising campaigns. There were detailed start and end dates, specific budget projections, impression totals, and a line awaiting my signature to throw away my client’s money. Where was creative? What was crazy?

I called a few, and was told several times, “Well, the banners are in this specific section of our site, which caters to your TM.” (That’s creative?)

Or, “We also gave you a newsletter sponsorship which is sent out to our most loyal and knowledgeable users on a weekly basis.” (That’s getting crazy?)

No rich media ideas. No content sponsorships or microsites. No partnerships and these were the least of what I was expecting. True, it was still an initial request on a potential vs. active client, but I assumed my reps would at least deliver a little closer to the bulls eye.

My first inclination was to chastise vendors in this very newsletter for their lack of creativity and salesmanship. But would that get me (or any of us) any closer, really, to make the best, most creative decisions for advertisers? Rather, here is a quick list of things for vendors to consider when talking to us media planners. In turn, here’s a list of things for media planners to remember, as well.

What vendors should consider:

Understand what the media planner wants. If you are ever unclear on this, please ask — it’s not a sign of incompetence, it is a sign of prudence. It will lead to more effective communication, better understanding, and, ultimately, a stronger proposal that will meet the needs of the media planner.

Do not send insertion orders with initial proposals. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter solutions. Take the time to discuss the ideas you have submitted to the media planner, hash them out, and move towards the insertion order at another stage. A well-thought-out proposal should sell itself.

On a similar note (and please take this one to heart, sellers) — the type of sales person that sends a signable document right away — especially after we tell them no formal decision will be made for a while — is not a trustworthy partner. It’s probably the same sales rep that is your best friend until you sign paperwork, but is slow and unresponsive to real-time campaign problems like underdelivery or campaign optimization. These folks mysteriously reappear with a lunch invitation around renewal time. Coincidence?

Finally — if you do not see an honest match between a media planner’s client and your site, tell them. Don’t sell something that doesn’t work. I know it’s hard to turn down money. But in the long run, it will pay off. One such vendor I worked with told me straight up that a similar product I was trying to place failed miserably on his site. He didn’t just take the money and run. Rather, he recommended alternative sites, and I thanked him. Whenever I have a buy to make now, I know I can trust him to be honest with his site’s ability to meet the client’s needs, and I return to him frequently. He understood the value of honesty.

What media planners should consider:

Although vendors know what works best on their site, media planners know (or at least should know) their client’s product best. A truly creative, unique idea that will work should be developed mutually. A 15-minute phone conversation will produce better results than a full day’s effort of two people working on separate sides of the virtual wall. It all goes back to communication.

Make certain the vendor understands the magnitude of the potential. This will give them an added incentive to put some real energy into developing ideas that will make the cut.

Some sales reps don’t have the ability to make significant creative decisions regarding a site. As a media planner, you must make sure the person you are talking with is the person that can best meet your needs. Don’t worry about hurting any feelings here. To quote the Godfather, “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Be up front with ad salespeople about whether you’re simply pitching an account, or if it’s a current client. Don’t expect them to put in a ton of work on a rush job when you don’t have the business yet.

Always call your reps back! Even if you’ve got nothing for them at the time, you owe it to your clients to constantly stay on top of the industry, and developing relationships with your vendors requires ongoing, mutual respect.

I know, I know, my ideas are not revolutionary. But the fact is, they are rarely practiced, and I encounter these sorts of problems daily. If we want to knock down the walls between our two sides, it starts with honesty, knowledge, and an eye to the long-term benefits of relationships between agencies and publishers.

There is more than enough opportunity out there for everybody to benefit, and too many of us are looking at immediate satisfaction, which often thwarts long-term prospects.

‘Nuf said.

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