Upfront 101: Fledgling Buyers Find It's More Art Than Science

When it comes to today's media agency professionals, training for the upfront has literally gone from "Negotiation 101" to "Partnership 2.0."

Most media agencies have some form of training for their employees, but there have been more dynamic changes in the last few years than in the past 30, training executives say. The concentration is not simply adjusting knowledge--pop quiz: the difference between a CPM and a GRP? What do VOD and DVR stand for?--but rather the artful, creative, and personality sides as well.

So put aside those pop quiz questions and focus more on what new research tools are available, and on the concept of "contact integration."

"We're doing a lot more with consumer research and insights, and trying to understand the 'whys' behind the what,'" said Bob Wisniewski, senior vice president and media director for Starcom MediaVest Group, and The Dean of SMG U, the media shop's training program. "The syndicated data has always given us the 'what,' and we've developed techniques and devices to help us dig deeper into the consumer to find deeper insights. And we're doing a lot of sessions on that these days, in addition to the traditional sessions on targeting and media selection, but we're also heavily focused on 'contact innovation.'"

Essentially, contact innovation is focusing on "people skills," which have become more important, said Jennifer Karayeanes, group media director for Universal McCann. Karayeanes runs UM's training program for researchers and media planners.

"It's probably harder these days to find people who fit the best skills set for working in media than it was a few years ago," she said. "Media buyers, media planners have a more prominent role to play. Nowadays, you do have client interaction, whereas before, it was the account person who was the interface with the client."

So now, the challenge is taking people who have naturally veered toward the analytical side and trying to enhance their creativity skills, whereas years ago, the goal in training media professionals was to make sure they understood the media math.

"In terms of balancing the science part of them with the artistic side, we do a lot of sessions on brainstorming techniques, lateral thinking, mind-mapping, and a variety of other techniques that we've developed in-house, such as 'The Art of the Possible,'" Wisniewski said. "In terms of the negotiating, especially for the upfront, the best illustration of how that has evolved is that we used to have some classes called 'Negotiating 101.' And now, we call them 'Partnering.' We ran a whole series within the last few months in preparation for the upfront, and it's just what is needed in today's environment."

The popularity of cross-marketing platforms has fostered this more congenial relationship (although the late-night deals and constant back and forth over the smallest details are still a major part of the process, media buyers note).

"When you're in the upfront and you're laying dollars down across networks, before you commit those dollars, you have to know who's willing to work with you as a partner, not just where's the best place to spend the most money," Karayeanes said. "It's about achieving added value, in getting upfront deals, to negotiate branded content, as opposed to just spots, billboards, and sponsorships."

Or, as Wisniewski put it, regarding these more sensitive times: "We're looking to the other side for someone we can engage with, someone who could have suggestions--and we're opening the door to the fact that good ideas can come from both of us working together, a situation where we can find that one-plus-one-equals-three. And that's a really new skills set for a business that has traditionally emphasized a 'win/lose,' zero-sum game mentality. Partnering is about emphasizing the 'win/win' side. And there's a certain realization that we both want to please the same people: advertisers."

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