Remember The Golden Age Of Media Training? It Was The Real Thing

I learned something from Spark Foundry’s and iHeartMedia’s new “Audio Academy.” I learned that the days when agency internal media training programs were autonomous, neutral and not subject to influence from the media supply chain they plan and buy may be over.

I also learned that the nature of radio -- now branded “audio” advertising -- has grown so complex, media agencies can no longer explain how it works, who the major players are, and how the “ecosystem” is structured without the help of one of its major players.

At least that’s how the agency and its media partner explain what led up to the creation of the jointly operated “academy.”

I get that media has grown more complex than the days when I first began covering it. Back then, as young reporter covering the agency media beat, I enrolled in media training programs in order to learn how the people I covered learned to do what they do.

I went through the entire McCann-Erickson media training program, graduated, and even got a certificate with McCann’s “Truth Well Told” seal emblazoned on it.

A year or so later, I went to Chicago and spent a couple of days learning how Publicis Media precursor -- Leo Burnett’s famed media department -- trained its rank and file, and I can tell you it was 100% neutral, without input of influence from the media suppliers it plans and buys.

I also get that agencies and their supply chain have sometimes incestuous relationships, and that when agencies get stretched for resources, they may lean extra heavily on their vendor relationships. But I don’t get why an agency with roots as pure as Spark Foundry’s would turn a big chunk of its audio media training program over to a supplier to indoctrinate its strategists, planners and buyers.

It seems a little too incestuous to me, and even if the world has grown more complex, it’s really the job of the agency to remain media neutral and not get in bed with its suppliers, especially not ones that dominate the medium it is learning to buy.

I was also a little surprised that when the companies briefed me on their academy, the executives from iHeartMedia were the top sales and marketing people. That sends a powerful signal about the intent, if not execution of the program.

Lastly, I don’t buy the explanation that media agencies need to be trained by their suppliers, because of the complexity of the medium. Yes, audio advertising has grown more complex, but it’s mainly not because of technology. It’s because of the same factors making all media more complex: fragmentation and an overabundance of choices and options to plan and buy.

During my briefing, one of iHeartMedia’s marketing execs cited “new touchpoints” like cars and smartphones, and new audio marketing applications such as “sonic branding,” as reasons for the complexity, but the reality is the car has been audio medium almost as long as their have been cars with factory-installed audio tuners, and consumers have had hand-held audio devices long before their smartphones.

As for “sonic branding” being a new marketing phenomenon, tell that to companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Intel, which have been branding themselves that way, as long as their were people who could hear them jingle.

I mean, Coca-Cola literally taught the world to sing with it.

I understand that radio/audio has some new technical aspects that planners and buyers need to be on top of -- programmatic, podcasts, etc. -- but I don't understand why an agency would turn to a vendor to school itself on them.

6 comments about "Remember The Golden Age Of Media Training? It Was The Real Thing".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 28, 2020 at 10:26 a.m.

    Joe, when I began in media and later rose to be media director at BBDO, the training program was part of our culture. While we often invited media to participate---for example "Look Magazine" showing us how they laid out an issue or a TV station taking us behind the scenes to see how a local newscast was manufactured---we didn't need the media to explain media to our people. We did that ourselves.

    Later, when management began cutting out funding for training----the reason being,"Why train people for other agencies?"---the need to cut corners and economize became all important---with little interest in futures---only the current fiscal year. This kind of thing has persisted in recent years where the focus is almost entirely on TV and digital. I have seen large agencies---which shall remain nameless-- give radio reps offices in their media departments so they---the sellers' reps--- can make the buys, thereby saving the agency the required staffing to negotiate directly with the stations. As for post buy analysis, makegoods, etc.---forget it. How is this possible, you ask? Simple. Most clients just can't be bothered with boring media numbers grinding and this applies especially to print media and radio. Sad but true. 

  2. Robert Dahill from GaleForce Digital replied, September 28, 2020 at 11:48 a.m.

    Joe, When I was the GSM at IFE - The Family Channel and MTM Syndication, we ran a  13 week training program that was very successfull. We had presentations in various disciplines and folks Brad Adgate presented "Research". However, IFE had the same problem that other companies w/ training programs like Turmer faced- some of the 'graduates' would leave after they finished the program. So training remains a challenge but I assume retention is an issue as well. Bob 

  3. Thomas Hickey from Northampton Consulting, September 28, 2020 at 12:24 p.m.

    What you both said. The industry has certainly changed a lot since my early days, maybe no more than on the training and development of younger staffers. That has obviously been driven by the increasingly shrinking bottom line. That said, I think there's a benefit in doing both agency-led training as well as "vendor-related" sessions as long as they are both supporting an organization's philosophy, general approach, etc. I do remember the Media 101s that I went through as a planner were cross-channel and pretty high level. Now we have audio experts, programmatic experts, etc. on staff at agencies that need more chanel-specific information than we ever did. Bottom line: train your people.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 28, 2020 at 12:48 p.m.

    What training program ? Receptionists, if they stayed, went onto assistants and then to buyers. Everyone was a generalist. Most all were women so they didn't have to pay much. Of course, this was pre-computer (however, once in a while even after 2000, as a salesperson, I ran into women who couldn't read a simple newspaper rate card or multiply 10" x $23.25. Too true.)

  5. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive, September 29, 2020 at 8:27 a.m.

    Joe - please find/replace the word "Audio" with "Google", and you have your column for tomorrow too.  

  6. Michael Solomon from Media Management, Inc., September 29, 2020 at 10:30 a.m.

    Excellent piece, Joe.  I thought the same thing last week as I read your coverage of the iHeart training collaboration an agency.  As targeting becomes more nuanced, leveraging complex data sets and seller "secret sauce", with delivery and performance often reported back to the buyer (agency) by the seller -- and only the seller -- all too often this is then reported back to the advertiser/client as truth.  When questioned regarding measurement and methodology, agencies often have to go back to the sellers for more details.  When the industry operates tis way, you end up with advertisers finding out far after the fact that sometimes the data they received from sellers and used to inform their own performance assessments was misreported, incorrectly calculated, etc.  There have been multiple examples of this in the last couple years with Facebook alone. 

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