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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The End of Civility?

I have an old friend who still toils in the media sales world. The guy is a complete professional and a true gentlemen. He called on me for many years and we did a great deal of business at times. When my jobs and clients changed he stayed in touch and still comments on my blog posts from time to time. Recently, he sent me an e-mail suggesting a topic for an MR post. His problem is as follows:

“The lack of at least a courteous response from media planners, directors, marketing directors and other prospects these days. In some cases even an acknowledgement that they are still in place, breathing and hopefully still on the planet would be nice.  Although computers and VM are a wonderful form of communication, a simple and polite inquiry as to possibilities often falls in “a black hole”.”

“Nothing back, no response, no acknowledgement whatsoever.”

“As professional sales people often the second best answer to us is a quick “no thanks” and we move on. Understanding busy schedules, deadlines, over worked and likely under paid, a simple professional courtesy should be mandatory. Interestingly, the NYC agencies are often the most responsive compared to the rest of the country.  Enough said.”

For several years a few people have told me the problem that they often have is traveling hundreds of miles to a meeting and then sit in the lobby for a few hours until a young assistant appears and tells him/her that his boss cannot see him today. So, I sent out a number of inquiries to both experienced sales people and senior media people at agencies and corporate marketing directors. In brief, my friend is not alone in his frustration.

Here are some comments from a widely diverse group:

--25 year sales veteran--“my new boss will not believe that people will not see a member of his team. I tried for a few months to see a potential big fish and could not get a face to face session or any kind of response. Humiliating me in a sales meeting, he told me that he would personally get a meeting. Well, two months later, he admitted to the entire sales team that he could not get a meeting either. He then apologized to me in front of everyone which I really appreciated. We get along fine now.”

--Media Director of Midwestern advertising agency--“My millienial team members are driving me nuts. I saw a solid sales guy whom I had known for years in the lobby late one day. He said that he had been waiting 90 minutes to see one of my media supervisors. I went back to her office and she said that she was going to slip out the back door as she was late for a pilates class. You cannot repeat in MR what I told her but she met with my long time acquaintance. She still does not see that what she would have done is wrong. It is embarrassing to me.”

--Northeastern Media Chief-- “After you told me about the pilates story, I laughed. Well, two days later a guy on my team kept a sales rep on hold and said he could not meet as he had a tense day and had to go to his barbell club and work out. What the hell is wrong with these kids?”

--New York based marketing director--“I love to meet with sales reps. The good ones are always traveling, talk to competitors, and often see trends forming. The youngsters on my team have no appreciation of them despite the example that I try to set. I have to make them have lunch with me and the rep. Oh yeah, I am interfering with their spinning classes! Too damn bad!

--Senior Executive, Advertising Holding Company--our #2 man flew in for his annual visit to our shop. I told everyone very sharply no texting while Mr. Big was addressing us. One young A.E. kept staring at her device, seemingly ignoring our distinguished visitor and reading texts. When I called her on it, she said that she had the device on vibrate so she did not disturb the meeting. Mr. Big noticed and asked me who she was. Her future here is not a bright one. The boss spoke for 12 minutes and he visits once a year. When I was her age, I would have been on the edge of my seat to hear his comments.”

--Deeply experienced broadcast sales person--“I am tired of having dinner alone on the road. I show up in town, someone does not post and no one wants to have a posh dinner. It is hard to establish relationships. Yes, a number of people will not meet with me which I understand but sometimes there is no response at all.”

What is going on? I would call it a lack of civility. Some people have jobs and not careers as I have often written on this blog. Others are bitter at a young age and see many things as an interference in their personal lives. Sales people are only trying to do their jobs. If you can send 100-150 text messages a day, you can send an e-mail back and say that a meeting would not be productive. To steal a line,“enough said.”

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Tyranny of Sunk Costs in Media

When I was an undergraduate a long time ago, I studied economics. One day my favorite professor talked briefly about what he called a gloomy and arcane subject--The Tyranny of Sunk Costs. Over the years I have found the concept to be anything but arcane; it is a frequent visitor to the business world and especially in marketing and media.

It essence the idea is that once you have sunk a large amount of costs into something it becomes harder to walk away from it when things are not going well. The “costs” are often monetary but not always. It can be time or sweat equity as well. These costs add up to quite a financial or emotional sum and they be tyrannical when you think it is finally time to walk away from the project, idea, or media platform.

We have all seen people who are not happy in their jobs. When you ask why they stay, a frequent answer might be along the lines of, “I have been here for 20 years. Can I just leave?” The answer, of course, is yes but it is not always a simple decision.  Have a stock that has declined? A real estate deal that has gone sour? Many of us will not take our medicine and get out with a loss. We stay with that job or investment in the hopes that things will change.

In recent years, I have seen the concept come to play with greater frequency as media habits shift. Not a month goes by when someone does not write or speak to me about their reluctance to pull the plug on a media vehicle or sponsorship that no longer seems to be effective. Comments such as we have been using this package for 14 years and have spent millions with it. Can we really abandon it? Usually, I tactfully try to suggest a strategic withdrawal from the weakening media asset coupled with testing new platforms with growth potential. Usually it works, but not always and not nearly as fast as it should. The same people who talk of the revolution in the media world hold fast to vehicles that have clearly outlived their usefulness. Sometimes it takes a new marketing person client side to get the change needed. He or she has no sunk costs of any kind and questions, rightly, why something is being done.

A funny thing happened when I sent this question out to selected panel members for possible comments. A lady wrote back that getting her thinking about this issue has inspired her to leave her lazy husband. “I have 12 years of sunk costs of all kinds and I am sick of it.”

Well, I hope she can work things out or simply get her husband off the couch. Separately, in the business world, we all need to be more honest about the tyranny of sunk costs.

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

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Thank You For Being Late

A few years ago I was proctoring a final exam at a school where I was an adjunct instructor. One young man kept smiling as he wrote his exam and was the first to finish. He handed me the papers, shook my hand, and told me that he was graduating the next week. I congratulated him and he said, “I liked your course but I will never read another book again. I am through with learning.” Someone in the room said I remained stone-faced for moment, then managed a weak smile and wished him the best of luck. That young man is really going to need it if he is to have any semblance of a career.

I tell this story as a set up for a quick review of Tom Friedman’s new book, THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2016). You may know Friedman from his NEW YORK TIMES columns or from previous books including THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE, THE WORLD IS FLAT and HOT, FLAT AND CROWDED. I do not always agree with his conclusions but I find him to be a graceful writer and a damn fine storyteller. Also, I admire that he works hard (as many of us do) to stay on top of changes in communications and the global business world as well.

The subtitle to the book is “an optimist’s guide to thriving in the age of accelerations.” He gives no quarter to those who want to remain fat, dumb and happy as my former student appeared to be. In one passage, he summed up the issue facing young people brilliantly. Here goes: “Average is officially over. When I graduated from college I got to find a job; my girls have to INVENT theirs. I attended college to learn skills for life, and lifelong learning for me afterward was a hobby. My girls went to college to learn the skills that could garner them their first job, and lifelong learning for them is a necessity for every job thereafter.”

I wonder what my former student would say in reaction to that? Friedman follows that strong statement with this: “Today’s American dream is more of a journey than a fixed destination--and one that increasingly feels like walking up a down escalator. You can do it. We all did it as kids--but you have to walk faster than the escalator, meaning that you need to work harder, regularly reinvent yourself, obtain at least some form of postsecondary education, make sure that you engage in lifelong learning, and play by the new rules while also reinventing some of them. THEN YOU CAN BE IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.”

Wow! Great stuff. He absolutely refuses to sugar coat what young adults are facing today. And we grey-beards need to shift gears as well if we are to continue to prosper. His book is not shrill. Friedman warns about robots but stresses that they will not take up every job out there. People will need to be sharpening their skills again and again, however.

He does a very nice job of talking about climate change without being alarmist. He and I agree but I think he needs to have a bit more faith in technology to solve our problems.

My only big disagreement with him is about solutions. As a libertarian leaning thinker, I find that his answer to almost everything goes back to new federal programs and regulations. There have to be market solutions to many of the problems that he identifies.

I strongly recommend THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE. There is not a single page in the text where Friedman did not make me think.

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

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Nielsen Out Of Home Measurement

Last October, the Nielsen Company announced that they were going to provide a national study of Out of Home Television viewing (OOH) by April, 2017. Soon my e-mail was loaded with excited messages from broadcasters all over the U.S.

The somewhat breathless comments included: “answer to our prayers,” followed by “Finally, our total audience will be measured” and “this new study when paired with Nielsen household data will make us much more competitive again.”

Well. There is no question that part of TV viewing is done outside the home. Nielsen’s Portable People Meter (PPM) will definitely pick up viewing in airports, hotels, doctors waiting rooms, gyms, and sports bars. Initially, a pilot test demonstrated that OOH might add 7-9% audience to the important 25-54 demographic. In sports, the uptick could be as high as 14% as many of us watch a game at friends homes or at a sports bar.

That is all fine and the exposure OPPORTUNITIES may indeed be there. My issue with OOH is that, when blended with conventional household viewing data, it may take an overstated audience projection and make it even more so.

For years now, we have all seen a rapid growth in advertising avoidance. More than half of us in the U.S. have a time shifting device which allows us to record a show and play it back jumping commercials. And, those of us who are watching live are often in the majority when we have another device going as we watch TV that gets special attention during commercial breaks.

So, OOH viewing has to be even more suspect. Have you ever watched a game at a sports bar? During commercials many of us tend to order up another round, discuss what is going on in the game with table mates, make a quick phone call or go to the bathroom. Whatever numbers Nielsen provides on audience size have to overstate attentiveness significantly. This is the age old issue that has been around since remotes first emerged in upscale households in the 1950’s.

For years, especially in the 1980’s, many of us tried to take attentiveness in to account by putting probability of exposure weights on each TV daypart. Many of us would set Primetime at 100 (admittedly an overstatement then and now) and mark down Late Night and Early Morning significantly. Clients often did not like it as daypart mixes tended to skew toward expensive mixes with a heavy weight toward those times of day when attentiveness was likely to be higher than others. It was not perfect but it was an honest attempt at trying to do the right thing.

So, in essence, I welcome OOH measurement. More research is a good thing. To clients, may I suggest that you ask your agencies how much they are discounting the audience of OOH for lack of attentiveness and to agency media people may I strongly recommend that you provide the new data but pre-empt client questions by weighting OOH data down in advance.

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