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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ad Agency Media Teams--The View from Salespeople

A few weeks ago I received a long and detailed e-mail from someone whom I have known for over 30 years. He was an excellent sales executive who eventually morphed into a really good broadcaster. And, he is still active in the business. His e-mail at times was something of a rant but, despite the passion, it made a lot of sense. He finished with the following: “There is too much lazy marketing going on at agencies. They continue to do what they have always done. Yes, they are playing with social media but they have no clue about it. What they need to do is more Branding.”

I canvassed a host of other people who were in media sales and the frustration level was amazing. So this post will give you a view of agency media teams from a sales executive perspective. Everyone in my sample is successful and has been in the business a minimum of 15 years. They are from all over the country—good balance from each region. All are people whom I know and have always considered to be smart and fair. I interviewed or exchanged e-mails with 25 people and what follows is a representative sampling of their opinions.

First, let us hear from a man with whom I have done business for over 20 years. He is easily the most gentlemanly person with whom I have ever worked. His product is now a multi-platform offering that can work for many substantial advertisers. Here is how he weighs in on media teams in 2011: “My biggest complaint is the lack of sincere contact. Nearly everything is done through e-mail, voice mail and very easy for the 20 somethings to ignore or delete. Even an old geezer such as I knows that in this computer oriented world things are going to change and just keep getting faster and less personal. For companies with a complicated product offering like ours that requires some explanation, this presents a problem even if we can be of real benefit to their clients. Also, today there is a lack of simple courtesy….people often do not return phone calls or even e-mails. Lastly, the young people do not understand that if you agree to take a meeting you need to actually do it. My sales team makes the effort to make contact, travels to a distant city at our expense, and often gets stood up when they arrive. It is maddening.”

Another long time friend who sets the standard for high ethics said the following:
“I think one of the biggest problems with agencies is that they are not set up to effectively evaluate over-all marketing opportunities. In today’s world, the hugely different opportunities that are brought to agencies often scream for a unique evaluation for each one. So many different elements are brought together (TV, Internet, Print, Activation) but the agencies usually stick it all into a cookie cutter evaluation and potentially risk not recommending things that can deliver a ‘grass roots’ activation model that will really help the client as a whole. Instead they go to a traditional media buy with very little imagination included……there are far too few people out there who can really evaluate a multi-faceted package.”

A gregarious and deeply experienced exec shares this sentiment: “You have struck a nerve, my friend. There is no incoming and teachable entry level talent who are being taught how to interpret proposals and ask questions. There is a moat of experience between veteran media people who think out of the box and the one dimensional “my cost per point is X and that is all I care about" attitude of the new comers. "Training, you ask? What training"?

A vivacious and lively TV exec who sells coast to coast is more sympathetic—“First and foremost, EVERY MEDIA TEAM seems to be undermanned…too much to do…too few workers and this appears to be by design. This is a common theme from NYC to LA. I think everyone gets the “we have got to do more with less” concept but at some point (soon) clients will see clearly that the model is broken. And today the client is suffering because the agency is trying to keep costs at the lowest levels.” This is undeniably true. She raises another vital point—“Because they are undermanned, media departments do not encourage salespeople to come in and educate all on new innovations available to them. Interestingly, some of these new opportunities might dovetail with the client’s needs and by incorporating them into the plan/buy, the agency could look like a winner.”


Sales people who do not work for major properties simply cannot get appointments. One agency media chief says that he will only see people from Google, ESPN and Sports Illustrated. He loves their swag and the whole team sits in. That is great for those three outstanding properties but the agency does regional business at best and there are local people who could help him with his clients if he would give them a hearing.

Some sales people close to retirement are resigned to what is going on. A West Coast sales maven says “The golden years are gone. I cannot develop a relationship with the newcomers. Media is now a commodity in their eyes and something is lost forever when that attitude took hold”.

Another adds “The game is almost over. The technology will soon be in place where a lot more will be done electronically. I am a dinosaur, and know it but it has been one hell of a ride since 1970. No one under 40 that I call on can really sort out value. They have no intuitive feel for things. Others lack the math skills to unravel a multi-platform deal.”

Finally, a mid-west sales star says “when I started in the business 35 years ago, I was in awe of the agency media teams. Now, the superstars are not going into advertising. I do not see that turning around in an economy that is over 40% financially oriented.

What do I think? Well, lots of things are moving toward commodity status and media is one of them. It is sad but in the defense of the agency people that I still speak with and like and admire, many are really overworked. The client suffers as one of my panel members pointed out. But with agencies suffering strong financial pressure, there does not seem to be an easy way out.

Courtesy needs to make a comeback. If someone made an appointment with me, I kept it. There were nights that I had to stay a couple of hours late as a result, but no out of towner was ever greeted by a receptionist saying that Don was not available. Also, as I always say, you can learn a lot by listening. Sales reps are always on the move, talks to hundreds of people, and work for firms that have some cutting edge products developed at headquarters. Media teams need to make time for them. Our world is changing and buying solely on cost per points is gone with the wind. Yet, sadly, it still goes on.

Sales people need to be concise and respectful of the media team’s time. But if they cannot get in to see the agency team, something is very wrong.

Will things turn around? I believe that the glass is half full, but it is hard to believe that the pendulum will swing back any time soon.

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

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