Piercing The Agency Media Operation

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Zimbalist of the OPA was presenting their new media consumption study. (If you have not seen this, it is worthwhile). Afterwards, we got to talking about use of dayparts for the Internet. A sales person in the crowd voiced a concern relative to selling this and other strategies to Media Buyers. In her experience, they either did not get it or were not interested. My immediate reaction was “call on the Planner” and some discussion ensued as to how to do that.

In many Interactive agencies, the Buyer and the Planner are the same person. At least by title. But by definition, no matter what the title, this is a person who is very busy with implementation and tracking, typically does not have the time or is not senior enough to think about strategy. The immediate sales reaction is to take the idea to the client. But there are a lot of others that can be communicated with inside the agency who should be more receptive to your story.

In order to do this, you need to figure out who is actually doing the planning and strategic thinking on the business. In some situations, this is a person with the title of Media Planner, separate from the Buyer. Or, it could be someone with the title of Media Strategist, Media Supervisor, Media Manager, AMD, Group Media Director or someone in the account group. Each agency is set up differently. So are clients. It is not necessarily the VP of Marketing who makes all of the strategic marketing/media decisions. This is where a good sales person becomes part detective in order to be heard.



Who do you call on? Ask the buyer. Call back into the agency and ask the receptionist who is in charge of Interactive media planning on X account. Talk to your peers. Fortunately, this is a business where competitors have friendly relationships. Somebody will be able to point you in the right direction.

Once you get the name, don’t call up and make an appointment. Do some more research. Try to find out what the overall objective is. There is probably a written document that outlines this, something beyond CPA or CPM. As an outsider, you cannot get this document, but you can probably get somebody to discuss it with you. Write the person you want to see, cc’ing the buyer, and ask. Say you have an interesting strategy or tactic to present, but you want to know the client objectives prior to presenting.

Too many sales presentations linger on the basics of a site. This is the wrong way to go once you get past the buyer. Your presentation at the higher agency levels needs to be couched in terms of the client’s objectives. This accomplishes two things. It makes it easy for the agency to understand how to use your idea. And, it makes it easy for the agency to move ahead to propose the idea to the client. If your idea is not couched in terms of their objective, you have just created a project for them, which they may or may not get to. Your objective at this point has to be to keep the presentation off of the back credenza of the planner’s desk. Things stack up there and every few months go to recycling.

If you think that the agency is really not familiar with your site, deal with that through an email ahead of time, send some basics in a PowerPoint or a couple of links that they can go to before the meeting. Concentrate on what you have to sell that is unique to their problem.

Present your offering in terms of a) the client objectives and b) how what you have can meet the objective and improve the campaign. New ideas are welcome. But prepare to back them up with numbers. Show the payout wherever you can. If the client is buying based on online sales, registrations or some other action (whether or not this is CPA; many CPM buys still have a specific back-end goals), show how your proposal will meet that goal. If the client is buying based on branding, show some case studies of others who met their branding goal by doing something similar to what you are proposing.

If you feel your idea has merit and is not being heard by the Media Planner, go to the next level up and present it to the Media Supervisor or Strategist, the AMD, etc. It is important here to work your way through the chain of command. A call to the Media Director may seem like the quick way to cut through things, but it will hardly motivate a planner to include you in their plan. And in the end, this has to happen for your idea to sell through.

IF you have presented at all levels at the agency and you have deaf ears, consider two options. 1) Your idea is off target for this company and you should spend your time on something else or 2) Go to the client. Play this card carefully. If you go to the client first or regularly go around the agency, you are not going to make many agency friends. This could affect your ability to get the current piece of business and others you may want to pitch the agency in the future. All the same, most agencies will understand that the media have the right to pitch the client ideas, AS LONG AS THE AGENCY IS IN THE LOOP.

Do not give up on your idea if the Media Buyer does not understand it. Find out who is calling the shots on strategy and get your idea heard. Just make sure that you have done enough homework. This way, even if you do not sell the idea through, you have developed a new relationship that you can take future ideas to. We are now in the long-term phase of growing our industry. The quick sell is gone. Set yourself up to develop the relationships that can help you on the long run. You will be better off for it.

David L. Smith is President of Mediasmith, Inc., the Integrated Solutions Media Agency based in San Francisco and New York. He can be reached at

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