I've been in the digital media business over 10 years. I am now a VP-level media director and I've worked with dozens of site partners for many years. A premium site I have done A LOT of buying with for many successful branding campaigns over the years recently gave me the hard sell to become part of a client's direct-response campaign. I was skeptical that the site would perform against our aggressive goals due to high CPMs, but the site was willing to negotiate to get the buying rates where they needed to be.
I was open and honest with them. I verbally informed them that their site was recommended as part of the plan at the negotiated rate for a pretty healthy budget amount, but couldn't sign an insertion order until the client approved the plan and the authorization was signed. Based on our history, I thought that would be enough assurance. Apparently it wasn't. The sales rep and site management contacted my CEO to see what could be done about getting on the plan and getting an insertion order signed. I was appalled. Was my word not enough? Did they not understand that sometimes it takes time for clients to give approvals? Who started the rumor that CEOs make media planning decisions anyway?!?
Amy says: I am constantly amazed at how little sales reps know about agencies, agency structure and how they work with their clients. When I was a media director, I would always say that the supervisors and planners were the key purchase decision-makers, and I was just the talking head. This site was lucky that you, as the VP,-MD, were involved to advocate on their behalf in the first place. Why they went to your CEO is almost too weird for me to even address. But since that is the point of this column, here I go.
Maybe the team was very close to making their quarterly goal and this buy was the last few dollars they needed before they could relax. Maybe they had a bad experience with your current agency before you arrived and they are superseding you because of prior bad acts. Either way, I am using this column to say to all sales folks: going above anyone's head to get a signature on an insertion order is dangerous business. First off, you are going to alienate the person you go over and, in this case, how does it make you look when you are contacting a CEO of a national agency for a media buy? Do I even need to elaborate?
How do you think a CEO of an agency spends her day? Revenue and client relationships dominate the mind of an agency CEO. Specifically, she is thinking about millions of dollars of revenue and dozens of clients, which doesn't leave much time and effort to focus on one insertion, of one campaign, of one individual client. This is not to say that a CEO will not address a very specific issue to do damage control, but in the course of normal business this kind of detail is not something that she would have time to do.
Clearly there is something fishy here, although I can't really figure out what it would be. Jason, why would a CEO be solicited by a sales team for something as normal as this?
Jason says: It's people like this who make me look wildly successful! My sales team pep talk need only go, "Here's where the bar is (no, we are not out drinking. I am merely extending my arm out at waist-level). All you have to do is be a little bit better than this." It is negative motivation, but I use it to let people know that one does not need to hit a home run every time at bat.
The lack of talent and expertise in this business never ceases to amaze me. In our last column (link unnecessary because I know you all read me religiously), I spoke about a dearth of training. Thus, once again, I am not surprised that the situation above occurred -- gobsmacked, embarrassed, ashamed, amazed and admittedly a bit giddy, but not surprised. Add the lack of experience to a down market that has never before occurred in the media business, and you get some very nervous sales executives. Nervousness causes people to act in bizarre ways. Lack of revenue can cause people to act recklessly; just ask Bernie Madoff or MC Hammer. In fact, I just created a new formula that explains this easily:
Nerves - Revenue x Negative Economic Growth = Hammer Time
Thus, once the "premium" site that formerly received brand dollars was chasing the direct-response budget (something that even surprised the agency person), I would have predicted that something weird was going to happen. The "premium" site in question officially "jumped the shark." And we all know once that happens, it is a quick and painful race to the bottom.
I can neither explain nor rationalize why this occurred, but in this market, it will not likely be the last time the Hammer shows himself. For the time being, the media director may just have to say, "You can't touch this."What's YOUR Story?
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Over the years we've come to see that truth is certainly stranger than fiction -- so we want to hear from YOU. Please submit your true stories of the good, bad and ugly that fill our days and nights. The ground rules are simple: you tell us the truth and we'll never reveal you. Submit your story to firstname.lastname@example.org, but don't include your name or company or any overly identifying features of the real characters -- just whose team you play for (buyer or seller of technology or media). Only Amy, Jason and our editor will see the stories.