Tag Archives: service partners

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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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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Relics Part 2–BLUR

In a meeting earlier this week a client was discussing what classes of trade they have distribution in and I mentioned that there’s no longer such a thing as a class of trade. For those of you under the age of thirty, product distribution used to be contained to what we called grocery stores, drug stores or mass merchandisers. Today, these types of stores are one and the same. Food products were sold primarily in grocery, health products were sold primarily in drug and household staples, mostly dry goods, were sold in discount stores. Today, Wal-Mart makes up about 40% of all product sales in almost every product category. Drug stores sell milk and grocery stores sell prescription drugs. The concept of selling through a single class of trade no longer exists. Why? Because consumers want convenience. Whether it’s a quick stop into a convenience store for coffee and breakfast while they’re gassing up or to have one destination for their once-a-week major shopping trip (if that even exists anymore). They don’t want to go to a drug store for their prescriptions, a food store for their groceries and a discount store for paper goods.

I call this blur. Blur refers to the blurring of the lines of delineation that historically existed to differentiate different “channels”. Blur is not only a retail channel phenomenon; it is a reality in the marketing world as well. Today, everything is everything. In my Integrated Marketing class I refer to video and audio as communication techniques, I hate to call them TV and radio. Why? Because TV and Radio are terms that reflect an archaic distribution AND consumption system that no longer dominates. Most of the students in my class don’t listen to traditional radio, but they are exposed to a lot of audio content. The same is true in video.

Even within traditional media concepts like dayparts in TV are blurred. Many cable networks air the same programs in daytime that they do in Prime. Many people DVR whatever they want and time-shift the viewing to their convenience, yet we still plan TV based on old reach curves and buy daypart ratings numbers.

Last year I recall speaking with a client who considered Social Media PR and not advertising. We said it’s neither and it’s both. The line between PR and advertising has blurred dramatically. Is Content Marketing advertising or PR? Is Native advertising or PR? The answer lies in redefining what we do not as advertising or PR but as marketing. And if it’s smart to do PR and advertising for your brand it doesn’t really matter if there’s a line. It only matters that it gets done right. But doing it together, in an integrated manner, where paid promotion of Tweets/Posts and DJ endorsements and product integrations and content all magnify the messaging to a brand’s business advantage.

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Buyer’s Remorse

A new CEO comes in, ousts the CMO and VP of Marketing and tells his smaller media agency that he won’t renew their contract because he has a larger media shop he’s worked with and believes their BS about bigger agencies always buying better than small ones.

This happened to us recently. When the CEO’s preferred media agency submitted a ridiculously high compensation proposal suddenly we’re back in the mix. Our fee proposal was very fair. We even offered the client a better deal. We get an opportunity to pitch ourselves to the new CEO who, for the previous two months, wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.

We have a great meeting. We explain the fallacy in believing that larger agencies “always” get better pricing. We tell him you get best pricing (and overall work) from people who care about their work and have time to do a great job for you. They take the time to negotiate for value and continue to drive down costs if they can rather than stop when they reach the benchmark. Sometimes those people work at bigger agencies, but more often they work at smaller ones. He mutters on his way out “that was a great meeting”.

We have the support of the marketing team, the research team and the field marketing personnel who all lobby for us to be retained. The CEO asks us to submit pricing on a prototypical buy in 50 markets. We bought those markets the prior year so we used our actual achieved costs. The CEO hires his preferred media agency. We’re disappointed, as we should be. We felt we had a chance. We believed we won the CEO over. Then we felt used simply so he could get a better compensation deal from the agency he hired.

A month later one of the marketing managers calls us to ask how we got our media pricing because the new agency can’t meet those costs. Why weren’t they asked to submit pricing on the same prototypical media buy that we were asked to? The CEO could have hired the better agency if he held them to the same standard throughout the process.

We get more calls asking us to meet with the new agency to tell them how we achieved the costs we got. We outright refuse and offer to handle the business instead. “Hire us and you’ll get those costs”.

Now the CEO has a recruiter calling one of our senior people to ask him to interview for the head of media position. Our guy says to the recruiter “If he respected me so much and wanted me working on his business why didn’t he hire my agency?”

He wanted a larger media agency. He got one. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

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BORDER CONTROL

Everything is everything these days. Long gone are the days when clear lines of distinction exist between channels. For example; where is the line between PR and advertising today? Content and advertising?  Is Social best handled by a PR agency or a digital agency? How does a marketer divide responsibilities between their service agencies when there is overlap in capabilities and expertise?

We had a situation recently that could have gotten ugly in which two service partners sharing a mutual client had a different take on who should ‘own’ execution on what was a combined recommendation. Each partner had a unique take on how they would execute it.  Was one right and the other wrong? No, they each approached it from their unique expertise.  Either agency would have executed the program well and the client would have had good results.

So, how did we resolve this?

First and foremost, we did not drag the client into the middle of the discussion because the last thing the agencies needed was to come across as non-collaborative to the client. This was our problem, not theirs.

Two open and honest phone calls between reasonable professionals who never lost sight that the decision should be made based on what was best for the client. Had these conversations become arguments or devolved into financial self-interests we’d still have no resolution. We also never characterized the situation as a fight because that creates conflict, friction and animosity.

Our first inclination was to see if there was an opportunity to collaborate on execution. But due to the unique nature of this specific initiative, we ultimately both agreed that one of the partners needed to own it outright and the other agency gracefully backed away in the spirit of partnership feeling that the client was still in very capable hands respecting the decision and the overall relationship.

The moral of the story?  In absence of having very clear and agreed to lines of distinction cooler heads will prevail. If you find yourself in this predicament be willing to back away if the client is better served by the other partner—or equally served. One bad situation can sour a relationship forever and ultimately you and the client are worse off for it.

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