I represent a new, emerging media company and am making the rounds to media agencies. The sales cycle is much longer than I anticipated, and I'm left wondering why. Are agency folks really motivated to find and test new vendors? Are they happy to fill out plans with their usual "preferred" vendors, or do they want to try/test new, innovative things for their clients? What is the deal? I thought agencies wanted to be leaders.
Amy says: The most common agency defense for any complaint, whether internal or external, is that they are just too busy. Staffing has been cut around the industry, clients are demanding more with less, and consumers just keep on flocking to new-media outlets and evolving their media consumption faster than we can keep up. The life of a media planner/buyer is nothing if not hectic -- but how do they balance incorporating innovative thinking into their everyday campaigns?
Do the media teams you approach view innovation as their responsibility? Many agencies have some flavor of innovation or emerging media teams and you may have more luck trying to connect with those teams. This is an easier first step, I think, and creates goodwill in another department that can spread beyond just the media buyers who will probably be your ultimate client. Another version of this is to go to more senior agency management, not media, to show them your innovative solution. Executives don't have time to keep track of everything, so occasionally they will meet with a company they have read about it for their own knowledge-building. (Hint: When you are new, trade press coverage is really helpful.)
On a day-to-day basis, you are facing the challenge that no one ever got fired for buying AOL, Yahoo, and MSN. And as you know, with digital media, results speak louder than RFP responses -- so without a history of success against sites who do, it's even tougher. That being said, here are some ideas that may help in getting agencies to buy your new offering:
Agencies do want to try new things, not just new restaurants! They just need more help than you think in selling them through.
Jason says: Innovation. Leadership. It's good that you are familiar with these terms, as they get thrown around a lot in our industry. Agencies want to try something new like I want to try a new Ferrari every year -- a nice idea, but a luxury I cannot afford. As Amy detailed, with scarce resources, slim budgets and agency assignments that come and go with a quick trigger, it is rather tough from an agency's already tenuous position to experiment with something completely unproven. From what I read, the average tenure of a CMO these days is 15 minutes. In this environment, you can't blame an agency for giving the newbies the Heisman.
So I say, pack up your innovative idea and go away. Go far away. Stop pleading for face time with the big agencies when you are just getting started. Why deal with that rejection? Instead, go to a boutique shop. Find some independent agencies. Seek out freelancers. In other words, I don't think it's realistic for a modestly funded start-up to get into the buying cycle of the big boys (or girls) without having any real, concrete traction, credentials and results to share.
Additionally, you could go to the client directly and offer something for free. You need trial. ("Error" is overrated). Spend whatever money you have on creating a kick-ass sample or an actual live product and give it away to a client on your A-list. Typically, if the client likes the concept, once they hear the word "free," they will instruct their A-list agency to engage with you. Just make sure you retain the right to promote the results after you have proven your success.
Of course, at this point you will be expected to take the agency team out to a fancy lunch to thank them for believing so strongly in your idea and for their willingness to take a chance on an unknown. Frustration -- another term you will become intimately familiar with.
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