The world of media buying is full of machismo. No one else behaves inand advertising? quite the same way. You won't get a PR executive, for example, bragging about their client spend in the same way media buying executives do.
As George Shaw, managing director of advertising and communications agency Joslin Shaw, says: 'Everyone claims to screw the best deal out of everyone else. Media buyers - whether agency or in-house - claim to be the best at buying. And the publishers tell me their magazines stick to rate card and get the best yields. They can't all be telling the truth.'
One reason for all the bravado is that media buying is based on bluff and negotiation. That's why, for many resellers, using a professional agency is the best way to get the best deals. But, according to Alex Letts, managing director of new technology full-service agency SMI: 'Media buying consists of two skills: planning and buying. Buying requires expertise, but planning is critical.'
Letts explains that successful media planning involves complex mathematical formulae, based on the number of potential customers an advertisement will reach, and the frequency an advert will be exposed. He says: 'The reach and frequency are the two most important criteria for evaluating the expected media effectiveness. Media buying specialists are trained to analyse statistics and come up with good reasons for placing adverts in certain publications, which are often not the ones that the client had in mind.'
Planning for those involved with selling IT systems and solutions is often complex, with the best strategies covering a wide variety of titles and media. Shaw says: 'Some sectors have a couple of decent titles, but the computing sector has over a hundred publications and most systems houses want to promote themselves in vertical market press as well.'
For many resellers who have a modest budget and specific and limited list of titles, media buying can best be done in-house. Letts explains: 'Often a senior manager within a reseller organisation can get excellent deals because the interests of his organisation are close to his heart, and with just a few titles where he wants to place his spend, he can develop close relationships with the advertising sales teams and publishers.'
Agencies charge 10 to 15 per cent of spend, which needs to be saved to make it worth going out of house. If this comes to more than z25,000 per year, then another consideration is to hire someone in-house charged with the specific task of managing the media spend.
If you choose to keep the media buying in-house, Letts believes you need someone with experience to manage the process. 'Apart from planning, you need a good negotiator and someone with tough interpersonal skills. Media buying is a tough world,' he says.
But, if you have just a few titles you feel you should advertise in, he says, the process is simple. 'The person responsible for placing adverts will be under siege by calls from other titles trying to persuade them to advertise. These calls can be distracting, but if you have decided the titles you will use, then you don't enter into any conversations with media sales staff. The problem comes for inexperienced media buyers who feel they have to take every call.'
Concerns about the volume of calls swayed Wojciech Kierstan, marketing manager at messaging software house Nexor, to decide to use an agent rather than manage his own media buying: 'Planning our spend is not a particularly big thing, as we propose to link our advertising with our exhibiting activities,' he says.
Kierstan believes advertising has two functions, both equally important: 'The first is to raise awareness of the company name and logo among decision makers, and the second is to reassure existing customers they made the right choice.'
To this end, Keirstan believes advertisements should seek to reinforce the message that the company is the leader in the field and is able to deliver the solutions organisations want. He says: 'We are focused in our target markets: defence and banking. Defence has fewer potential customers but it is important to keep our profile high so existing customers feel happy. But banking is a larger market, and we need to do more there.'
Kierstan, who has appointed Mike Hardwidge of LVA to handle his media spend, says: 'The problem is that every call from the media has to be analysed and considered, which can take time. It is difficult to make a decision about whether to advertise, and whether to be sure the proposition is value for money.'
For Kierstan, an external buyer is the answer. 'They are able to get a better price because they order in bulk. They have the buying power of a large organisation by representing several small organisations. They have a better network of contacts, and are aware of special offers and last-minute deals. It would take Nexor a long time to become as established with the media sellers as an agent is,' he says.
Another advantage of agencies, says Letts, is that they are more familiar with the publications and can negotiate better sites. 'There is a lot of wining and dining, and agencies with several million to spend can negotiate for good positions and rates. The negotiating process can take a lot of time, which is why many clients use agencies. It can be worth every penny of the agency commission.'
However, Letts admits that agencies can't always get a better deal than an individual who is clear about what he wants and has personal relationships with the publishers. He points out that few clients have the planning expertise the agencies have, particularly when it comes to new technologies.
'The area of interactive media, including an online element to the marketing mix, is beyond the experience of many in-house media buyers. You have to know what is good value at any particular moment,' says Letts.
There are a lot of space sales-people selling cheap Websites, and claiming a high numbers of hits. 'It's not the number of hits that counts,' says Letts, 'but the number who stay on the site and leave their name and address.
A new media technology agency is able to provide measurement and analysis and recommend the best sites for advertising.'
The last word comes from Kierstan: 'I regard media buying agencies as the keepers of the gate. They should be identifying high value opportunities for us, linked with other promotional activities. A good media agency will become part of the team and understand what is appropriate for specific campaigns and for our objectives. It sounds like the answer to a maiden's prayer.'
TALKING TO THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE
Mike Hardwidge, head of PR and media buying agency LVA, points out that being a middle person between media buyers and sellers is not always a bowl of cherries. 'The agency always risks financial embarrassment if the client goes bust, ' he says. One way round this is for the publication to charge the client directly and send the agency its commission separately. But not every publishing house wants to do that.
Hardwidge says: 'We once had this nice man from Hornchurch who was an ex-policeman and very well mannered. He came to us on recommendation because he always paid his bills on time, although he only spent a few thousand each month. One month he was a bit late, and we thought we'd chase him on the Monday. Then on the Saturday we got a fax saying he'd gone into voluntary liquidation. As we had booked several series for him, we were liable for quite a lot. Luckily, we were able to cover ourselves with some horse-trading. The interesting point is that one day I was listening to the radio and his name was mentioned. He had been found guilty of blackmail, extortion and spiking baby food with poison, and he was sent to prison for 17 years. It just goes to show.' Hardwidge says one problem he often faces with smaller clients is that they expect their advertising spend to give them editorial exposure and coverage.
Although there are some strings that can be pulled, it is far from automatic.
He says: 'You hear some media sales people offering a page of advertising with a free page of editorial, and you can write the editorial yourself.
Then you look at the publication and realise all the advertisers do that, and the quality is so low none of the target readers would open it - let alone read it.' Media buying is an essential part of the marketing mix, says Hardwidge, and that mix has to include a media strategy. 'You have to have a clear brief from the client, and then you often have to talk them out of it.
Clients will say they want to advertise in PC Week, until I point out that they don't sell PCs.' One trade trick, says Hardwidge, is to buy an advertising space every fortnight in a weekly publication. 'They often need an ad at the last minute, and if they have your artwork in house they are more likely to call up with a last-minute deal,' he says. This is why some agencies like the publishing house to bill them and for the agency to invoice the client - there is plenty of room for sleight of hand on ad costs.
Hardwidge says: 'The publishing house may call at 5.15 on a Friday offering a site for z200 when the rate card is z2,000. The agency will tell the client they got it for z1,500, and aren't they clever? It happens all the time.' There are plenty of people who think they have got a good deal, Hardwidge adds. 'One possible client was telling me he got good rates. I asked what he paid and he told me, and I pointed out that was rate card. "Yes", said the client, "but I didn't pay for bleed." I didn't like to tell him,' says Hardwidge.
ODDS ON FOR THE AGENCY
George Shaw of Joslin Shaw says: 'If you are selling IT products or promoting an IT products and services company, it is essential to use an expert third party. Anyone who uses a non-specialist agency is a fool.
There are a handful of agencies who really have a clue about this market.
Going to the wrong agency can cost a fortune.' Agencies use on-screen databases which give them the information about each title and previous deals. Shaw says: 'Clients can tap into our pool of knowledge and experience.' When he is doing a media audit for a prospective client, Shaw often comes across items which were tried but didn't work. He says: 'Buying a schedule should not be about trying things. A bit of knowledge and a lot of research can save a lot of budget. Few businesses can afford to try out new publications.' Shaw's advice to a client who expects a good media spend to lead to editorial coverage, is to look at the magazines which offer advertising linked to editorial. 'They are rubbish,' he says. 'If the client is after editorial coverage I tell them to use an agency for their media management, and to spend the time they save talking to journalists.'
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