Tag Archives: business

When Walking Away Is The Right Decision

I hate walking away from prospective business, but a recent situation made me realize that sometimes that is the best outcome. A few months ago I received an inquiry from someone purported to be a consultant who was given our name through a mutual business friend. She was looking to bring in a new media agency for a small HBC company. The brief she sent focused on two objectives; reduce the agency fee and improve the media efficiency (she meant to say lower the CPM because media efficiency and media cost are not the same thing).

I scheduled a conference call with her and one of my key people, while on vacation, to discuss the project and see if it made sense for us to participate. We opted to go forward and had an in-person meeting with the consultant the following week. As she briefed us it became clear that she was asking for spec work, a fully fleshed out media plan—read my prior post on this subject here http://wp.me/p2edMw-2s

There is a certain amount of spec work I am willing to do in a new business pitch. Anything more than that I ask to be paid for. In this case I asked for a “go-away” fee on the work if they did not hire us. It’s an interesting approach in that often times the work is good enough that it forces the prospect to hire us or pay two agencies. The problem here is that we wanted a lot more than the prospect was willing to pay. They did not put the same value on our work as we did. Our ask was 10X what they were willing to pay.

We settled on an intermediate number, but I insisted that it be only if the client agreed to our ongoing fee structure. It made no sense for us to continue if the client wasn’t intending on paying us the compensation rates we wanted. The consultant danced around the commitment and kept insisting that we needed to do the spec work and the fees would work out. Red flag number 1.

Red flag number 2: the consultant asked us to break out our fees for planning and buying separately because she wanted to manage some of the buying herself. Apparently she had a relationship in the :10 TV unit space and wanted to be more than the consultant. She was going to push for the agency that allowed her to maintain this position—and likely the one who planned the most :10’s.

It was then that we decided that we did not want to pursue the assignment because there would be a lot of spec work, which even if they did not hire us, would benefit the consultant more than the client or us.

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The Model Isn’t Broken. It’s Fixed.

Sony, VW, P&G, J&J, Bacardi, SC Johnson, Visa, 21st Century Fox, L’Oreal, Coca Cola, BMW, BASF. What do all these companies have in common? They all have placed their media business in review, or recently completed a review. Their incumbent media agencies; the usual suspects—OMD, Zenith, UM, Mediacom, Vizeum, Carat, Starcom/MediaVest. The agencies involved in the review; the usual suspects.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

I’ve heard and read that some people believe that industry change (content, integration, analytics) is driving this rash of reviews. If so, why are the same agencies that some clients are dissatisfied with all of a sudden appealing to others? Why would OMD be a good repository for Bacardi, which they recently won, when current clients J&J and Visa have put their accounts in review? Is it because what is shown in new business pitches is not what is used on a daily basis? I witnessed much of this when I was at Initiative, albeit a dozen years ago. The people who work on client business think many of the tools and sexy stuff shown in new business pitches is just that, only shown in new business pitches. It’s not practical for everyday use because the planners have too many boxes of GRP’s to fill in. They do not have the time to solve real business problems.

So what is the value proposition of these mega-media agencies? It certainly isn’t buying leverage because smaller agencies can match the big guys on media pricing—and often beat them. The big guys speak of relationships with the media companies, but the media companies are putting more and more inventory up for sale in the open market, using exchanges to eliminate the human aspect of transactions that is rife with inefficiencies.

Others suggest that the reviews are procurement driven, which explains why only the usual list of invitees are participating. These big agencies hate losing business and they’ll promise everything to win. They have a beast to feed to perpetuate their own myth and they believe their own BS.

You don’t have to. If you want the same-old solutions join in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. If you want real change you really have to want to change.

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Ad Sales Rep Consolidation

An interesting trend is happening in traditional media and it has interesting consequences for marketers.

Meredith Publishing is now managing all the business operations, including ad sales, for Martha Stewart’s print properties. Hearst recently launched a division that provides scalable solutions for smaller and medium sized publishers, including ad sales consultation. Today a number of spot radio rep firms announced they were partnering to form an umbrella radio and digital media sales rep firm.

While these decisions make sense for these media companies’ needs it will have impact on marketers in ways that might not be good, most notably upward pressure on ad inventory pricing.

Marketers get the best price when they pit multiple sales organizations against one another for share of a media budget. Now that Meredith represents an even larger share of the viable print inventory what is their incentive for negotiating price down? The power they have to creep pricing up will have dramatic impact on the market. And not just for the companies participating in the sales co-ops or outsourcing. Their competitors now know that fewer players are negotiating so it would not surprise me if CPM’s begin to inch up. I recall having this conversation over breakfast with Tom Harty, The President of Meredith’s Magazine Group, a few years ago when Hearst acquired Woman’s Day from Hachette. I thought, in the long term, that it was good for both Meredith and Hearst to not have a wildcard single book that could only be a spoiler on price.

On the radio side, this impact will be felt most by agencies that buy through the rep firms. As far as I can tell it is mostly large media agencies who buy their inventory this way because the buyers simply do not have time to negotiate with every station in every market. Again, where in the past two or three rep firms were negotiating against one another for radio buys now they will not because there is no incentive at the company level to do so. This is one of the reasons why the FCC has ownership limits on radio and television stations in any given market.

Does your radio buyer buy through rep firms? If so, what does that mean for you?

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Repercussions

The fallout from Jon Mandel’s statement at the ANA about Agency kickbacks has led to a number of anonymous executives admitting it has happened under their watch and some even confessed to participating themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean that these individuals received kickbacks, but that they allowed their agency/media company to take or give money for a media buy. Initially I thought Jon Mandel was overstating a problem, but apparently it is more prevalent than we could imagine. This is certainly more significant than an agency taking the 2% cash/pre-payment discount–which is still sometimes offered–and not offering the money back to the client.

In my last blog I focused on the kickbacks that were occurring out in the open via mega holding company specialty shops. Read that blog for background. So to go into more detail, here’s how the mechanics would work in two scenarios:

  • Moving buys through a barter division. To simplify things, media companies sometimes want to take clients on a trip or schedule a sales meeting in a nice venue away from the office. Rather than pay cash for these trips the media company will offer future access to media inventory at a reduced price or for free to a barter agency. This is easier than going to management and asking them to pay out-of-pocket, but the media company offers value of inventory that is higher than the cost of the trip. The media company can be more lavish and less cost-conscious, especially when it comes to taking clients on a trip. The barter agency sells the inventory either internally or externally at closer to market pricing and makes a significant profit. The barter division of the mega agency holding company tries to move this inventory internally first, where they can ask for equivalent market pricing. If they sell it externally it needs to be sold at below market pricing. Suddenly a 2% commission on national Cable TV becomes 25% or more–I’m being kind. Remember, some of this inventory can be accessed for free. Barter division provides kickback to media agency to ensure the deal goes through.
  • Non-disclosed media buying. Marketers less familiar with the agency process or infrastructure might be led to believe that their media buying is falling under the master contract with a creative agency when, in fact, it does not. The media agency adds their commissions into the media prices they quote, taking a high commission rate. The creative agency keeps all of their fees, not having to pay for media service while completely offloading the labor. Sometimes they even get a kickback above and beyond their fee.

Both of these scenarios would pass muster on an audit because the audit only goes one transaction deep. The auditors are not examining every transaction nor do they know there are secondary transactions. The kickback would always be treated as a separate transaction, not discounts on invoices.

The more you know, the more you don’t want to know.

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I’ll Have Two Scoops, Please.

The ad industry is abuzz with the recent accusations by Jon Mandel, a longtime media exec, regarding widespread kickbacks between media companies and media agencies. I can believe that there are kickbacks, personal favors, some tit-for-tat agreements, but the claim that it is widespread is difficult to believe because of the number of people that need to be involved, all either partaking in the fraud or looking the other way. In order for them to be as widespread as Mr. Mandel states it needs to be systemic. To get away with it strict non-disclosure agreements between the agency and the media vendor must be in place. It would also survive an audit because any kick-backs would be treated as a secondary transaction. It would be disturbing if it is indeed happening. Read the following for more info on Mr. Mandel’s statements: http://adage.com/article/agency-news/mediacom-ceo-mandel-skewers-agencies-incentives/297470/

But there is another practice that is widespread in our industry, one that happens out in the open. I’ll call it “double-dipping”. Double-dipping is when an agency buys services from itself in order to improve its bottom line. And it is happening at the biggest agencies out there.

Not to pick on any one, but look at the major holding companies and you’ll see how agencies are making money today when the stated commissions seem to get lower and lower every year. Each major holding company owns creative agencies, media agencies, barter companies, mobile agencies, tech platforms, CRM companies, research and strategy companies, branded content companies, etc. So you can see for yourself, below are links to their organizations:

IPG: http://www.interpublic.com/our-agencies

Omnicom: http://www.omnicomgroup.com/ourcompanies

WPP: http://www.wpp.com/wpp/companies/

Publicis: http://www.publicisgroupe.com/#/en/maps

Their worst offenders are their trading desks where there is no transparency between the amount they are paying and the amount that they are selling it to themselves.

High-level executives at any company like this are encouraged, and likely their bonuses are dependent upon, how they can improve the bottom lines of the parent company by moving money between organizations internally. Whenever and wherever possible they will buy services through an internal partner who is arbitraging inventory. The client thinks the margins are slim, but they can easily double or triple when no one is paying close attention.

Marketers have contributed to this by creating an environment where this can happen. Every year procurement led reviews occur wherein a marketer’s stated goal is to reduce the service costs. This is compounded by their insistence on extending payment terms. Who in their right mind would continue to accept lower terms AND wait to get paid? The answer is simple. Someone who’s figured out another way to make money.

If you’re a marketer who is now concerned about these practices look carefully at your agreement. Is your agency able to subcontract without your permission? Is your main agency constantly parading in specialty divisions? If they use an internal subcontractor with your knowledge do they not want you to have a direct contract? Do you not audit your agency and their vendors? If so, there’s a possibility they are double-dipping.

Holding companies developed these arcane multi-discipline organization charts for one reason and one reason only. They’re not interested in being the best at anything, except discovering new ways to separate you from your money.

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What’s Your Return Policy?

No, not a 14 day purchase return on that “As Seen On TV Hat”, but return path data, RPD for short. RPD is the data going back to the TV provider about your TV set’s habits. This data can back from your satellite, optical fiber, or cable line. Your TV provider–assuming you have digital and approximately 50 million HH’s do–is tracking your every viewing move. They know second by second what is being ‘displayed’ on the sets in your household and whether you’re switching when commercials appear. They’re also using your viewing habits to build look-alike models on similar households to send you/them specific tune-in messages.

I’m sure you’ve seen banners/buttons asking you to press “A” for more information or to request a sample. Your TV monitor and remote now become an interactive mechanism just like your PC/mobile device or tablet. Ordering up a pizza (extra anchovies for me, please) when the Papa John’s commercial airs is easy and has just truncated the purchase funnel. That pizza can be at your door without you calling, getting online or walking/driving to the restaurant. OK, so maybe ordering pizza is not the killer app for RPD, but as someone who manages a lot of pharma and financial services marketing I can see value in trying to capture names to remarket to, names and email addresses to add to my database and online communication streams.

With the new technology and data capture there is so much more we can do with TV to make it more than just a medium to push messages out to demographic groups. Some smart CPG companies are marrying the hundred of thousands of HHs available with retailer loyalty card data to better understand the cadence of purchasing behaviors and whether ads are driving new buyers or just reminding those with an empty box to buy again. Why would anyone only ever use Nielsen ratings alone anymore? Welcome to the 21st Century when aggregating audiences of low common denominator demographic populations isn’t enough—if it ever really was. We can finally shift from an audience metric and the awareness stage of the old purchase funnel to tracking business metrics, transactions and engagements.

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