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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"I've Got Relationships"

Over the years, I have interviewed hundreds of people for a variety of positions ranging from entry level to senior executives. About 20 years ago, a term started to creep into all too many interviews.

The term is “I’ve got relationships.” Recently, I was screening candidates for someone and I asked how the candidate would deal with the emergence of new media. While I was asking the question, she was shaking her head vigorously and answered “I’ve got relationships”. I controlled my temper and asked what relationships had to do with deciding on the proportion of conventional media to alternative media. She started to answer but then dismissed me saying that she had the best relationships in the marketplace and that is what mattered in media. Needless to say, I dismissed her. :)

Whenever I hired anyone who used relationships as their strongest selling point, I always paid for it. After a year or so, my team would discover that the person with the great “relationships” was taking station junkets meant for clients without telling me. And, others let their contacts handle all make-goods and billing problems without any give and take from our side. For a while, then, to me, relationships became being in the media’s pocket.

Are relationships important? Absolutely! I would argue that over the next few years good relationships will take on even more significance. As conventional media is less effective, a great camaraderie with the media will help both buyer and seller as they both enter uncharted waters of new platforms and media mix opportunities (I will discuss this from another angle when we discuss TV copy lengths in an upcoming post).

If someone keeps harping on the relationship angle in an interview, may I suggest the following: Call people beyond the references you are given. If someone is a “taker” meaning trips, tickets, junkets, or frequent expensive dinners it will come out. Also, if they favor one station in a market over others with better rates or service that will smoke out as well.

Simple technical questions or philosophy of negotiation should never be swept under the rug with the “I’ve got relationships” cop out. No matter how good your relationships are it does not help you much if you should have used radio instead of TV where your friends reside. Or, if your clients needs call for 50% digital and you stick with a plan from a previous decade.

Also, people need a sense of the future as we go through the coming upheaval. If you only talk to the same old contacts and cut the same old deals, you are going to be left behind. For years, I have always struggled to define what I looked for in a person to be a great media pro. If I had to define the quality that I am looking for it would be “restless imagination.” If may sound a bit flowery but it sums up what you need these days. You have to be thinking about how to cope with changes. If you win the night in prime, you still may only have a 2.5-3.0 rating. Okay, you won the night or you bought the biggest spot of the night, but what were the other 97% of the people in your market doing at that time? Try and find someone who can do the basic blocking and tackling well but who also tries, even struggles, to look ahead.

As the great Bill Bernbach once said, “When you are through changing, you’re through.”

If you would like to contact Don Cole directly, you may reach him at doncolemedia@gmail.com

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