Deconstruction: Do You Speak Media?

"Bring media upstream in the communication process!" "Give media a seat at the table!" Then there's my favorite: "Media practitioners are people, too!" Okay, so I made up that last one. But the first two are legitimate battle cries I heard often during my early days in the media industry. Fast-forward five years and recent headlines tell a different story:

"Media agencies now impact medium and message"; "Bring media planners back into the fold, this time as equals"; "Media: the new black." (Made that one up, too. Has a nice ring, doesn't it?)

By unshackling renaissance media minds from spreadsheet dungeons, and welcoming advertising agency renegades and digital hotshots, media agencies have made their biggest dream come true. Gone are the days of being relegated to synthesizing 20 slides into two in order to prevent the "creative" from running over. (Okay, sometimes that still happens, but at least we now get our own meetings with clients.) Now, media itself is the creative product, spawning drag-out fights over who is accountable for the client's media planning.

But now that we've secured meetings with the C-suite with more than five minutes on the agenda, we've got to ensure we're doing more than just showing up. We need to be heard.

I'll never forget one of the most painful agency-client interactions I've witnessed in my career. A certain associate media director tried to present a bit of brilliant (though incomprehensible) data to a client. The data was undeniably cutting- edge, putting a mere MRI run to shame. Unfortunately, the most memorable part of the meeting was our client turning beet-red as he repeatedly shouted: "Say it in a sentence; say it in a sentence." In the words of neo-soul singer Jill Scott, "Talk to me, break it down, spell it out."

Never assume that people know what you're talking about. Believe it or not, there are clients and agency partners who don't know the difference between a GRP and a TRP. The concept of half-life? Don't be surprised if you get the response, "Half of what?"

Media-proof presentations as though you were going to speak with your parents or grandparents. (Think about how many of your own friends and families still haven't a clue what you do, despite years of your repeating the same story.) How would you explain this concept to Pops? Can't be done? Then break it down. Double-check your presentations for insider language, acronyms and assumptions. Don't leave it to your audience to make the translations. It's highly unlikely that they'll just happen to have a pocket-sized media dictionary on hand.

Last summer I had the pleasure of attending our agency's Top Gun Executive Leadership program, where senior execs were trained according to the Story Theater method. Our trainer, Doug Stevenson, an aspiring Hollywood actor-turned professional speaker, was determined to make his book, Never Be Boring Again, a reality. Mysteriously, his critiques paralleled a typical media presentation - shrinking behind Excel charts, rambling through hundreds of PowerPoint slides, all while focusing on acting professional. Boring!

Ever wonder why there's standing-room only when the latest advertising campaign is revealed? Most creative directors and account planners have mastered the art of Story Theater, giving the consumer and the brand leading roles. It's what we say and how we say it. We aren't fooling anyone with PowerPoint slides that are cut and pasted from Excel, or making any friends with pie charts that no one can read from beyond a foot away. Instead of trying to sound professional, we should try being ourselves.

My final point is taken from my boss, Nancy Mullahy, a true ambassador of independent thinking. Her philosophy is simple:

>> Think before you speak

>> Use consistent language

>> Drive your point home

At your next meeting, take a deep breath and remember to be patient with those who speak media as a second language, and with those who may have never signed up for the course. Our clients pay us to lead them, and lead is what we must do.

Kendra Hatcher is senior vice president, contextual planning, at MediaVest. (kendra.hatcher@mediavestww.com)

Tags: agency
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