You Really Have No Idea How Your Media Plans Are Being Built!
Are ski trips and skydiving outings more important than marketing performance? CMOs, it's time to look closely at how agency media planners are making decisions.
It is a little before midnight; I am late submitting this article by three days; I am jetlagged beyond belief; I am halfway around the world from home for the third time in a month; I have six 8-year-olds for my daughter’s sleepover hyped up on sugar and food coloring around me (dancing to the Kaiser Chiefs) and, quite frankly, I am feeling downright ranty!
(Before my kids’ sleepover, I moved the time on all my devices and clocks forward by two hours – they think it’s almost 2 a.m. and are quite happy to call it a night soon because it’s “the latest they have ever been up.” )
Last year, I was in Chicago visiting a new agency partner. They had already committed $108k to us for a financial services client, so this was a meet-and-greet. It was a decent meeting, nothing spectacular, nice people… On the way out the door, a mouth-open-gum-chewing media planner asked what sort of entertainment they would receive in exchange for the campaign. My hair bristling, I enquired as to what she felt was appropriate…
“Sky diving. And, if you don’t, I’m sure someone else will appreciate the budget.”
Perhaps laughing right at her wasn’t the smartest of responses, but my polite follow-up email offering dinner next time I was in town was met with a swift response saying that due to unforeseen circumstances, our budget was cut to $15k, with the rest moved to another partner.
Roll the clock forward to just two weeks ago, and my company, Chango, was head-to-head with one of the oft-written-about media companies facing inventory quality allegations.
On the one hand there is us, top of the performance pile by 20%, and lowest % of fraudulent inventory by an absolute mile (please excuse my bias here, as I’m trying to make a point). On the other is a firm surrounded with uncertainty, almost bottom in terms of performance and absolutely highest in terms of fraud.
Simple decision for the media planner, I thought. Well, it was, right up until a ski weekend was laid on, and a keg brought into the office. Shocker! Guess who landed the Q4 budget?
(I could go on for days with these. Buy me a pint one day, and I just might!)
CMOs, Are You Listening?
Do you realize what this means? Many of you know this goes on. We have talked about it personally, so I know you do. And you accept that one partner might be more favored over another because of a relationship. Fine.
But we are talking 20% or more difference in revenue to you with these examples. How many times have you worried about a 10% shortfall, or celebrated a 5% increase in performance? These are your partners joy-riding your dollars.
And the fraud! Many a time we have seen “best of breed” site retargeting vendors drive budgets as much as 60% beyond where any sane human being would put them at, just so they can hit their own targets. That’s bad for your customers, and it sure as hell is bad for you.
</Rant>All Entertainment Is Not The Same
I don’t just want to heap piles of crap on the agencies here. Media planners are often underpaid in comparison to other agency roles when hours worked are taken into account. There is an element of entertainment expected as part of the compensation.
What I aim to expose here, though, are the blatant cases of bribery that are occurring up and down this industry. Wild decisions are being made based on gifts, and sometimes performance is absolutely disregarded. Remember, companies that are a black box and say “just give us all your dollars and we’ll make it work” do that for a reason.
We have clients and agencies we have worked with for years that I enjoy spending time with, professionally and personally, and so, of course, I will pick up the check for dinner, drinks or some other event. Legitimate bonding helps everyone. So I would hate for you to rush out and spank your agencies every time they accept a cocktail or two; but, if I were brand side, I would want to see the correlation between gifts and media planning decisions.
The Tide Has Turned
When we started this firm, we wanted to build outstanding technology, stand apart with our service, and stay true to our core values (we actually wrote them on the wall in the first months and signed them). We have done a lot right, and have benefitted greatly from it.
But you know what we did wrong? We were too damn honest. We didn’t fluff our campaigns, and we didn’t bribe the planners. We didn’t cut corners, and we didn’t bullshit our clients. Not everything we tried actually worked, but we went down the path of sharing that with our clients rather than hiding it.
This week, I hand over my job as Chief Revenue Officer to someone new, moving fully into the Chief Product Officer Role. I look back over the last four years with mixed feelings.
On the one hand I am proud of what we have done — after all, we exceeded forecasts almost every quarter, and we did it our way. On the other, I wonder where we would have been had we played that game a little more.
In our favor, and the favor of those other companies that play our way, thankfully, the new tide is starting to wash away the sheen on the companies that had chosen another path. Where they once stood glimmering, shiny and sexy, they now have a few layers washed off, and may soon look like nothing more than wrecks on the beach.
Seems like we did choose the right path after all.
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