Vetting Mobile Vendors: A Month of ‘Yes’

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 & Innovation Director for Neo@Ogilvy.

In my July column I wrote about the large number of mobile ad networks chasing a limited amount of advertiser demand. I was surprised to learn that my knowledge of just how many were out there was underrepresented. After the article ran, I received about 40 calls/emails from mobile ad sellers that I hadn’t heard of – making my challenge of understanding the publisher space more like an enigma. I decided to dedicate a month to vetting each vendor/publisher in an effort to provide my clients and agency teams with better matches for their mobile strategies. I am a Media Director after all, and I’m sure somewhere in my job description this kind of dirty work is smiled upon.

So, like a desperate girl on the dating scene I said yes to everyone who called me to meet. The majority of these meetings were scheduled as calls because there are not enough hours in the day to have face-to-face meetings with everyone.

There were only two vendors that I chose not to meet with.  The first one told me that his company was in stealth mode and he could not tell me anything about it over phone or email. I politely explained to him that I can’t take a meeting without knowing what someone does. The other one I chose not to meet with because my team and I had previously spoken with him and deemed that his company was not a fit for our clients (many of his claims were being successfully fulfilled by other publishers).

Anyway, missing two out of 40 aint bad!

Pleasant surprises:

  • The advice in my earlier piece received well and wholeheartedly. I found that many of these short calls were more productive than hour-long in-person meetings. We started and finished on time, got right to the point and my questions were answered immediately or followed up on within 24 hours.
  • There’s a lot of passion for mobile marketing out there… and there are a lot of people who are in to get bought out and collect a check. When the passion prevails I am as pumped up as the person I’m speaking with.
  • I learned a lot from all of the ad sellers. Whether it was an anti-climactic conversation or not, this experience taught me what to ask for and has helped my entire agency narrow down choices.
  • While yield management, measurement and targeting are still challenges, mobile publishers seem to have much more leverage in technological influence for improvements or suggestions than their “desktop” counterparts.
  • With this information, my team and I were able to conduct a mobile training (mandatory for all media planners) in which we included a matrix of capabilities for each publisher that I spoke with.
  • Two-way feedback is great. As critical as I can be personally, vendors who shared their experiences with me on meeting with my teams was invaluable. We all have room for improvement and I strive to make our teams improve communication in both directions.

What I learned:

  • In the mobile space, it’s clear that everyone gets water from the same well. For some pure-play resellers, ad inventory is just a commodity, and I have to choose who I buy from based on parameters like service, reporting, technology, and pricing. Not totally shocking information, but many sellers are fully willing to admit this.
  • Mobile sellers hated it when I compared them to competitors with similar offerings.  I suppose it’s like showing up to the party in the same dress as someone else, everyone wants to throw a belt on it to make it look original. In reality it’s actually really helpful for me to understand who their competitors are. Frankly, if they are confident in their offerings they shouldn’t be embarrassed that someone else on the planet has thought of selling the same thing. I am not playing “Who Wore it Best,” I’m just trying to understand what they do.
  • Mobile publisher websites often don’t match what they are selling. For every call I took I poked around on a seller’s website, and rarely was it in sync. If one is selling in an industry where the supply outweighs the demand, a URL is oftentimes the only exposure to potential clients that they’ll get.

As in my previous column, after my “month of yes” I have some new suggestions for mobile ad sellers – specifically pertaining to requesting meetings:

  • You don’t need to ask for an in-person meeting with every one you communicate with. Think of asking for an in-person meeting a little bit like an online dating service. Would you ask someone you’ve never met or spoken with to come to their apartment to reveal more about yourself? At minimum get a response from your potential client that shows potential interest (another reason why your website should say what you do). It also makes it easier for us to respond with a simple answer. When someone sends me a date/time request on an initial intro I have to play secretary on my response (logistics involved), and that can be a show stopper to my ability to respond in a timely fashion.
  • Recap the meetings in a friendly follow-up, but keep in mind the period from introduction to getting an RFP is not a quick one. As I went through all of these meetings, a lot of publishers expected an RFP within a week.  Some were very aggressive because we had a pleasant meeting. It’s fair to say that when you ask someone for a meeting – lower your expectations. You asked me for time, not the other way around.  It’s unlikely that I have an RFP just sitting around to send to you. These things take time.
  • Don’t just show up in-person for a scheduled call. In-person meetings are great for numerous reasons but you have to remember that sometimes the small talk, someone running late, finding a room, getting the projector to work etc. can be a bottleneck in a busy person’s day. (With my office being on 11th Ave, many guests are casually 5 to 10 minutes late because no one can ever seem to gauge how bad cross-town traffic is.)

My “Month of Yes” (which is now over, sorry folks) uncovered some fascinating learnings regarding capabilities, personalities and ways to engage potential new partners. My expectations were surpassed and I welcome commentary on future areas of discussion to address.

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

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  1. Thank you! I think every media seller in this business should read that! You points are very well made, and give us a nice window into your work. Its great to see a pro at work.

  2. Great Findings Sacha. Mobile is still the Wild Wild West of Digital. Your absolutely right in that the challenge is to pick out the true players from the pretenders. From my perspective a good Mobile Vendor should have unique creative differentiators and more importantly, an answer to targeting tactics other than broad channel bucketing and milking reach from volume apps such as Words With Friends. That leads into my biggest concern, transparency, which is why Partner/White Lists are pre-requisites for me.