You send an RFP, negotiate packages with websites and spend hours or days constructing a plan presentation, with rationale, screenshots and numbers for the website packages you're recommending. You present the plan to the client and get them all excited about the recommendation. The client goes back to the powers that be in order to obtain budget approval. While the client is securing approval, websites start to call to let you know that proposed inventory is no longer available.
Not only is this frustrating in the sense of creating more work for both sales reps and media planners, but it's also embarrassing. While most agencies I know (including my own) are good at setting expectations with regard to the fluidity of the online advertising marketplace, it still sucks to have to go back to a client and tell them that the package they were excited about is no longer available.
When this happens, we revise plans, submit revised recommendations, and hope that no other inventory gets taken off the table. But there's no guarantee. Competitors and other companies vying for the same inventory can buy things right out from underneath you.
Some sites do have inventory reservation. And the smart sites will let you know that inventory has been reserved and the length of time you have to make up your mind before the reservation expires. But there are plenty of sites that have no inventory reservation system to speak of. Why?
One of the factors contributing to the problem is non-standard ad management systems. Inventory reservation is a feature of many adserving systems, but not all media vendors are working with the bigger players in ad management. Many of them are using homegrown systems. These systems tend to not address the notion of inventory reservation, seeing it as a low-priority problem. (After all, competition for ad inventory is a "good problem to have" and there are other problems that have priority over this one.)
Another problem is vendor-side implementation. Often, sales forces are scattered all over the major media markets in the country. Sales offices usually aren't in touch with one another on a day-to-day basis regarding proposals that are out to clients. Proposals that cover the same inventory might be issued by multiple sales offices, with little or no knowledge that this is the case. Implementing any standard inventory reservation solution across multiple offices is difficult.
But we do need a solution to the problem. Advertising clients have an expectation, which was set much earlier by other advertising media, that they have time to consider the packages offered to them and that other advertisers can't snag their inventory once they're negotiating over it.
If we can't deliver on this expectation, it will be yet another black mark on interactive's reputation. If it happens often enough, it could become a legit reason for clients to avoid the medium.
This has been a problem since day one. Admittedly, it's only a minor pain compared to, say, creative standardization, but it's a problem nonetheless. Let's get it solved, publishers.