Every so often, when I run in to an old colleague or acquaintance, we naturally go down memory lane and talk about the people whom we have both known over the years. There were the smart ones, the nut jobs, the characters, and finally my companion will sometimes ask "who is the greatest media professional you ever met."
You might think that my answer would be someone who ran a huge media conglomerate or a mega buying shop. But, as time has passed, I see most of them as superb administrators who sometimes got lucky or outworked people or were politically astute as they shimmied up the greased pole in a huge organization. Also, when you are spending a billion dollars, much of the negotiation is done for you by the media.
Actually, I think the correct title for this post on the ad agency side would be "The Greatest Media Professional That I NEVER Met." Allow me to explain.
Somewhere in the US there is a very experienced media director of a small advertising agency. He or she may have a staff of only 5 or 6. As a result of the small staff, the heavy lifting is done by the director. This individual may have worked initially in New York, Chicago, or Dallas, but romance, family circumstances or a desire for a simpler life triggered a move. Now our friend can probably be found in a place like Milwaukee, Birmingham, or Salt Lake City.
Times are tough for all of us but agencies like the one our hero or heroine works at are at the brink financially. This star keeps going. The hours are a bit longer as hiring additional staff is an impossibility. Locally, the talent pool is very shallow so sometimes the best this media director can do is pluck someone right out of college and help shape a real pro. But if you never leave your hometown, your view of the world tends not to be too expansive so growth plateaus pretty fast. The experience he/she has allows some corners to be cut but in many instances there is intellectual rigor and a careful process that must be maintained. Cordial with everyone but not too close to the sales people who call on the shop, this person has a sterling reputation for always playing each negotiation right down the middle. The changes in the move to the digital age are unsettling but our person reads all he/she can, goes to forums when possible and affordable and invites the new media into the agency frequently.
Research data is always problematic as the agency simply cannot afford a full complement of services. So, the old pro has to go to the media but ask for specifics so that the media provider does not shade the data to make themselves look better. Outside the office, this person devours Malcolm Gladwell, Martin Lindstrom, Paco Underhill and all other branding or behavioral gurus. With great frustration, none of his colleagues care to read these new books in the field after he has finished them. So, there is a bit of a feeling of isolation as few around him/her want to address what is going on and find ways to not only survive but perhaps grow.
Still, this man or woman looks forward to each day and does the absolute best both for the owner of the firm and all of its clients. Teddy Roosevelt, my hero, described this person's sense of purpose perfectly-- "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are." Whoever you are, the odds are good that we will never meet. I do want you to know that I wish you the very best.
In media sales, there is no imaginary or composite person. I know the man of whom I write but to protect him from his New York management, I will not name him or give out any telling details. While this individual sells a specific media vehicle, you cannot pigeonhole him as a radio, sports, TV, or magazine guy. This is a media professional who understands when his product makes sense and knows when to back off or bow out of the picture when his product is not a good fit. He understands the marketplace. Today, he is the first one in line to play "Let's Make A Deal" but during the boom times he held the line on price and had a good read on the pulse of the marketplace. This man was pro-active. You did not have to call and ask what he had because he always made sure he saw you a few times a year and brought you up to speed with what was going on in his world. He is careful of how much time he takes and when e-mail kicked in years ago, he was able to keep you aware of many things without a face to face.
Most importantly, his word is his bond. He always did what salesman are supposed to do--he underpromised and over-delivered. After a spirited negotiation with him, I always felt like celebrating. He fought hard and fair for his terms and an excellent price but I knew, once we pulled the trigger, the follow through would be top notch.
Our world needs more of these two extraordinary people. If you find a young person who seems to have that spark, cultivate them and, above all, encourage them.
If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org