"If I Were an Agency Guy..."

You should know before we begin that I am not—nor have I ever been—an online media buyer. And for reasons that will become quite evident, it is unlikely I’ll ever be one. That will not deter me from stating what I might do if today some renegade agency were to deem me worthy of such a lofty pursuit.

As I stroll through the carnage of the post-crash web, I see great content on quality sites otherwise littered with low-cost, highly obnoxious CPA banners. These advertisers add no value to the sites where their ads appear—no one benefits but the advertisers themselves, and only when a sale is consummated.

You too can take advantage of the dire-straits publishers are in and nickel-and-dime them down to CPMs or CPAs at a price of...well, nickels and dimes. You could force them to accept highly aggressive ads that won’t give their readers a moment of visual peace as they attempt to read the published content. Who cares, as long as your advertiser can get a few extra sales...right?

From a strictly spreadsheet-centric view of the universe, that’s what you should do, and probably what I should do for that poor, misguided ad agency that foolishly hired me to buy online media. But I wouldn’t.

Before I tell you what I’d do, let me digress slightly. Suck and Feed, sites that attracted a million readers per month, just folded their operations. They couldn’t afford the $50K nut per month it would take to survive. I find that tragic, don’t you? The kind of people who read their content are not the low-rent jabronies watching the Jerry Springer show. They’re intelligent, educated, well-informed people with an edge. Without getting into the specifics of Suck or Feed, their loss is symptomatic of any number of sites that have built sizable, quality audiences and then folded—or soon will—if they can’t cover expenses.

As an agency guy, I’d be hunting around right now for sites that have quality audiences and are struggling to survive. In an effort to develop a long-term, profitable relationship with their audience, I’d seek to develop a long-term, profitable relationship with the sites. I’d want to get a sense of what it’s going to take to help that site survive, then work out an exclusive branding relationship—an ongoing sponsorship—to enable my client to reach and interact with their audience. It wouldn’t be with flashy banners or pop-up ads, but with specially sponsored tools, articles, and information that would benefit potential buyers.

The branding would be exclusive to that site—clear and identifiable yet unobtrusive. Links would be present for special offers, new product information, consumer alerts, etc., but they would be done in ways that didn’t inhibit the flow of the site. One or a few sponsors could make the difference between survival and demise.

We need to let go of the language of campaigns, click-throughs, and CPMs. How about exploring interaction, relationships, give-and-take, ongoing support?

I’ll admit, it’s not the metric-centric view that we’re all used to, which is why I’d make a lousy agency guy. But it’s nice to sit back and imagine how nice it would be if online marketers treated me like an intelligent human being. What a concept, huh?