Both Sides Guilty Of Media Etiquette Mishaps

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sacha-xavier-paul-chenier “Data Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.  

Today’s column is written by Sacha Xavier, partner, media and innovation director for for Neo@Ogilvy, and Paul Chenier, vice president of national sales at AskMen.com.

Are you frustrated by the number of emails and calls you get from people selling something they claim is a perfect fit for you, even though you've never spoken with them about your work? Or perhaps you’ve leveraged your membership at the Soho House and your relationship with the staff at the NIKEiD store to woo agency and client media planners -- and never even received a thank-you note.

If either of the above is true, then we’ve got an article for you! It's a first-of-its-class, proprietary, fully transparent, exclusive commentary that has been customized just for you. By the way, what is it you do again?

Sales and agency people both do things that drive “the other side” crazy. After all, agencies hold the purse strings for brands’ advertising budgets, while publishers earn commissions by selling ad campaigns and meeting budgetary goals. In the saturated -- and therefore competitive -- digital space, sales people can be aggressive, resulting in obnoxiousness on both sides of the business.

To be sure, these antics are the exception, not the rule. If they came up every day, we’d both hate our jobs. On the contrary, we truly enjoy them because the majority of people we work with are fun, thoughtful and caring. This is a big part of what has kept us both in the business for so many years.

But complaints come up often enough to be worth a discussion. We thought that perhaps if we collaborated on a “he said, she said” article -- an attempt to provide a balanced perspective on some of the common follies that we’ve experienced in our community-- we could help both sides understand each other a little better, and maybe laugh at ourselves a little bit, too.

Here are our grievances, followed by responses:

Three Things The Sales Side Hates:

#1: The “everybody panic!”

Chenier: An agency comes to us asking for big, never-before-done ideas -- along with mockups -- on an impossible deadline. Everything is urgent; everything is rushed. Then, once you’ve submitted the proposal, all the hubbub is met with complete and utter radio silence … at least until it all starts again in three months. It’s a classic “hurry up and wait” situation.

Xavier: We are all totally guilty of this. I know there have been many cases when I gave a rep 48 hours to return something and I only had 24 hours myself to make a recommendation, hence the urgency. But when the radio silence happens and a decision hasn't been made, I do think the planners should communicate that. As far as never-before-done ideas, I think that's a monster the sales side has created. We constantly get pitched these “first-time” ideas and think, “Why didn't you pitch that to us last quarter when you were in?" It seems like you have to ask for something great in order to get something above average. But, in reality, a lot of times that type of direction comes from the client as well.

#2: The "I care, I really do....Well, actually no, I'm mostly just saying that"

Chenier: An agency ends an RFP with “please let us know if you have any questions,” but doesn’t really mean it or have any intention of answering questions. This is especially frustrating if we also don’t get any feedback when the proposal isn’t accepted. To us, it sounds like the agency is saying, “Here is another RFP. I know we didn't tell you why you didn't make the last one, but you're just going to have to try again without insight or direction until you get it right.”

Xavier: In general, I agree that most RFPs don't include enough information. I try to make these requests as detailed as possible, but I know that we all do not. We should answer questions; however, the majority of reps ask for meetings, and we frankly don’t have time to meet with everyone to answer all their questions. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to meet with 10 publishers in a short timeframe. If you can email clear, precise questions, you’re more likely to get a response.

Lack of time is also to blame whenever I fail to let someone know he or she didn’t make the plan. In all the times I’ve done this, I’ve never yet received a quick response like, “OK, thanks for letting me know.” Instead, I get rate reductions or calls from sales directors, all of which should have happened during negotiation. The main reason publishers don’t make a plan is because they didn’t put their best foot forward during the first round. I don’t have time to renegotiate and listen to them pour their hearts out.

#3: The "partnership is a one-way street"

Chenier: An agency sits on client deliverables until the last possible moment, then needs it urgently -- usually on a Friday night. This involves asking for a mind-blowing and in-depth proposal, then simply not reading it, or being unwilling to let the publisher explain the finer details, thinking and nuances.

Xavier: I have no defense for that. I think that planners should absolutely treat publisher partners as equals in the game of media, respect the work that is delivered and the time of those who worked on it.

Three Complaints From The Agency Side:

#1: “I'm going over your head”

Xavier: Publishers contact a client directly, without telling the agency in advance. It’s especially hard when they make the client think that there is a problem or that the brand is at risk in some way. Alternatively, publishers sometimes drop clients’ names, even when they don’t actually know them, as a soft threat to us.

Chenier: Ahhhh ... the client card. This is probably the most overused and misplayed card in the whole deck. I always try to be very sensitive the to the agency-client dynamic, and while good publishers should try to maintain some level of relationship with key clients, there’s no excuse for going over an agency’s head or for trying to leverage that relationship to back an agency team into a corner. I know there’s nothing agent personnel hate more, and I can't blame them.

The one exception is when an agency is misrepresenting a publisher to the client, in which case the publisher does have the right to ensure that the client at least understands its product and capabilities.

#2: The wrong-focus rep

Xavier: This is when a rep dodges actual questions and tries to sell me something different than what I’ve asked for. In the same category are reps who tell me how great the solution would be for my clients without knowing who those clients are; reps who schedule a call or meeting about one thing, then spend the majority of the time trying to sell me something else; or reps who aggressively ask for a meeting before even asking which accounts you work on. These are often the same reps who drop off the face of the earth once they get the IO. It would be great if I could just have meetings for fun, but -- these reps don’t seem to realize -- I have to prioritize my day-to-day work first.

Chenier: These are the reps that give all publisher sales personnel a bad name. I aim for sellers to be educated and consultative, always going into a meeting with a deep understanding of the clients’ objectives -- and a few ideas to at least get the conversation started in the right direction. The sad truth is that the interactive-media industry is talent-constrained. As long as that is the case, we’re going to have inexperienced people on both sides making it more difficult for thoughtful marketers and sellers to cut through the noise.

#3: The needy guy

Xavier: This guy has a seemingly insatiable need for “follow-up” when I haven’t made any requests for proposals (or anything else). I can, of course, understand when someone I’ve previously communicated with asks for a follow-up related to actual business, but I cringe when I see “follow-up” subject lines from someone I’ve never before spoken with. This should go without saying: If we’ve never spoken, you’ve got nothing to follow up on. I will get back to you, assuming you didn’t send me a SalesForce or other mass email, but it irks me if you just keep emailing and calling until I do.

Chenier: There are a couple of reasons this happens. One is a school of thought that believes persistence overcomes resistance. Some sellers face too much pressure to hit a specific volume of contacts and meetings instead of focusing on quality. You might call it the SalesForce effect, but the truth is there always have been -- and always will be -- sales organizations that believe this is a numbers game, and that the more calls you make, regardless of quality, the more business you get. In my opinion, the most successful and generally liked sellers are the ones who can manage to stay top of mind and relevant without being overbearing and annoying. But finding that delicate balance isn’t easy, to say the least.

Sharing The Enlightenment

In spite of these challenges, we’re both extremely happy with the majority of the contacts we encounter in our jobs. We generally get to work with some of the most passionate, thoughtful, ethical and fun people anywhere. The two of us have always been on opposite sides of this equation, yet we have been friends for years.

The exercise of writing this together enlightened both of us, and we hope it helps you understand how to better work with your counterparts, too. Sure, there are unmentionable acts of obnoxiousness we dare not even mention here, but -- all in all -- we’re both grateful for the many partners who do their jobs well, and for the good times we have with them when business takes us out of the office.

Follow Sacha Xavier (@sachaxavier) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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