Media and Advertising: Do Media Sales Organizations Understand (Or Care About) The Advertiser's Needs Anymore?

It’s really not surprising when you think about it, since media is being commoditized at an ever increasing rate. Perhaps managers in the media business are thinking “why even bother anymore?”

That’s understandable to some degree, since there is little joy or thrill in selling a commodity. But is it wise, long-term, to be completely oblivious to the advertisers’ needs? Or could it be that the phrase “long term” is something most media sales managers can’t fathom today due to the pressure they are under?

After sitting through several (formal and informal) focus groups with advertisers and agencies over the years in different markets and by examining reams of pages of cross tabs on data from a large Arbitron research project that measured the perceptions of local advertisers across the country (agency and non-agency), it’s pretty clear that most media sales organizations are missing the mark when it comes to “professional sales representation” in the eyes of both ad agencies and their clients.

One thing that is very irritating to clients (both agency and non-agency alike) is that they are sick and tired of “training salespeople”.

Since very few media companies invest in sales training, advertisers perceive they (the client) are the ones actually conducting “on the job training” with new media salespeople.

The few media companies that do invest in sales training usually do so in vain. The company’s local management typically ignores the content being taught during training (and fails to reinforce it), or worse– management sends a totally different message to the new AE on the job (“just get an order today”) which is often different than what the new AE is being trained.

Even more problematic: the salesperson doesn’t stay with the company very long and leaves.

Although the turnover in the media industry has always been high– it seems to be increasing— which is why “training and turnover” are a serious problem with having a productive relationship with advertisers.

Another problem that advertisers always seem to point out in focus groups (and which also pops up in research studies) is billing and invoicing incompetence.

“Accurate and timely invoicing” was actually was THE most sought after benefit of ad agencies. Of course, this is huge problem for agencies that are buying media for several accounts in several markets. Delays are costly and frustrating. It appears that very few companies are doing a good job in this area. There’s a huge desire for electronic invoicing at most larger agencies because of this problem. Virtually all local media received low marks in “accurate and timely billing.”  Very few local media actually do a good job in this area.

During one focus group of advertisers (no agencies were present) it was clear that the main reason that advertisers hire an ad agency is to “screen” them from the media salespeople. Of course, advertisers want and need creative and marketing direction too, but the main reason for choosing an ad agency was to keep the advertiser free of dealing with so many media sellers. During this session, few media organizations had the respect of participants.

Broadcast and cable sellers have a long way to go in “professionalism”—which, of course, is not surprising, due to the lack of training and high turnover. One memorable quote came from an advertising manager at a very large account who stated “I’d rather clean toilets than sell radio”. Those of us watching in the viewing room fell out of our seats laughing.

Is it better today than in the past? You tell me. Nevertheless, the participants’ experiences with media salespeople reinforced a big need for an ad agency’s services.

“Going directly to the client” has always been and continues to be sharp stick in the eye for ad agencies— and rightfully so when you consider why advertisers hire an agency in the first place. Most reasonable and confident ad agencies have no problem granting the media access to the client if there’s a valid business reason to meet with the client. (By the way, a valid reason from the clients’ point of view is NOT to complain about their share of the most recent buy).

Agencies, however,  are livid when a media salesperson sees the client without informing them in advance. My experience is that going to the client “direct” (without informing the agency) rarely, if ever, works for the media seller.

Even if the media vendor insists on seeing the client (and the agency disagrees) an advance warning to the agency is always appreciated. Besides, it’s kind of cowardly to sneak around anyway isn’t it? The benefits of “going direct” are clearly outweighed by the long-term resentment usually harbored by the agency if they are blind-sided by the media.

Despite this, many media sales managers could care less about the long term resentment, especially if they are just making a “pit stop” in the market before they move on to another one.

If media buyers were the “e-mail police”, then there would be a lot of salespeople in jail right now. Agencies (and clients) state that salespeople who e-mail and/or fax multiple packages to them are a major nuisance and disrupt their business flow. One client related a story where a salesperson sent over 20 pages of a boiler-plate presentation that was designed for a drug store, but client they were “pitching” was actually a health spa.  THe seller didn’t even know what kind of business the client was in.

Others cite the irritation of broadcast salespeople mass e-mailing “fire sale” deals or “one size fits all” packages to them at the behest of an insistent sales manager.  

One buyer cited an example of a broadcast station trying to sell a Valentine’s Day package via e-mail to a local AIDS clinic represented by the agency! Another commented that if he ever saw another “Survivor Package” he would puke.

And leave it to some radio companies to further irritate clients.

To illustrate, let’s play a quick word association game.

What is the first word that comes to mind when you see or hear the word “Cluster?”

(Don’t say it out loud next to your co-workers though).

If you thought of a “Goo Goo Cluster” candy then bar then you’re in the minority.

To quote one of my friends in radio sales management: “There’s only one word that goes with ‘cluster’. It starts with ‘F’ and it isn’t ‘friend’”.

Today’s radio companies’ insistence on selling time on all of its stations (appropriately referred to as “the cluster” by radio execs) has clearly taken precedence over the advertiser’s needs. This sentiment was previously expressed years ago in the Arbitron study titled “Radio’s Biggest Local Spenders Speak Out” presented at the Radio Advertising Bureau Manager’s Sales Conference. When asked about radio companies “packaging” multiple stations in proposals, a full 70% of those advertisers and agencies surveyed said that “multi-station packaging” made the job of buying radio “more difficult.”

The hard truth is that advertisers have been buying “clusters” of stations for years. Buyers could care less which company owns the station… they pick the best ones for their particular needs, so in essence they have been customizing their clusters for their clients’ needs.