Let's cut the bull. We are both traveling on the same train--the client's budget express. Buyers need us, and we need them. Depending who needs who more dictates who gets to wear the conductor's cap. That's how we roll, and the good ones on both sides of the track instill in themselves--and those they manage--a sense of respect for every passenger.
In my many years selling media, I have sat alongside some great ones and a few that ought to be thrown from the train. Like the media supervisor I invited to lunch at Bix in San Francisco, who decided to show up with his team of five. Sure, that was presumptuous of him, but worse, after scrambling for a bigger table, and ordering drinks, it became awkwardly apparent his planners had no idea which magazine I worked for. What did they talk about on the walk over that he had no time to mention who they were dining with?
That meal I laughed off, but one dish I could not stomach was when a buyer used my proposed six-page rate quote for a two-page schedule without consent. More surprisingly, I learned of the pricing discrepancy only after receiving the insertion order. When I called to alert the buyer, her response shocked me. She was aware she had used the lower rate; she had to because of budget constraints, she explained. "But I don't have approval from my manager to give that rate at that commitment level," I explained. She shot back, "the budget is accounted for"--meaning there was no going back to the client at this point. She then offered me the chance to return the insertion order and not run the business. I offered her something offensive and immature and demanded a meeting with her media director, which was granted just to get me off the phone.
I expected an apology when we met for breakfast at Il Fornaio on Battery Street. Instead, I ate pride while the media director enjoyed his eggs and politely explained the woes of working with a small-budget client. The check came; the apology did not. The media director insisted on picking up the tab, which was a nice gesture. I learned that picking this battle came with a price. I never sniffed another page from that agency again.
Why was I so reactive over what amounted to less than 6,000 bucks? Pride aside, the business issue is that the seller (except in bidding models) is the only one who can change a rate. You cannot change the price Starbucks charges for coffee. You can choose to go elsewhere. Buyers can influence rates; they cannot get behind the counter and ring up a lower price. That is why I reacted so strongly and why I am ringing the alarm on how this inappropriate negotiation tactic is occurring today.
Online media buyers, inside the protective walls of media buying software programs like Atlas and Media Visor, are changing the pricing terms for given line items on a submitted proposal without the consent of the seller. They are lowering CPM's to where "they need them to be" and hence increasing the amount of purchased impressions, and then sending these revised terms out as insertion orders to sites that make the buy. At that point, the negotiations are closed, as explained in my prior experience--because once an insertion order is executed, the client has signed the budget requisition, so funds are essentially frozen. At this point, publishers have two choices: walk, which doesn't get them any closer to their quota, or accept these self-negotiated terms, and pour a second glass of wine that evening.
Instead of kicking my feet under the breakfast table, I want to make sure media directors and senior management at online agencies are aware this kind of behavior is occurring. I cannot imagine media buying leaders would defend this practice, so my hope is they are simply unaware it is happening under their roof.
Folks, it is a long train ride. Whatever short-term value is gained with this tactic of self-negotiation will be negated by the impact this lack of respect has on your fellow commuters.