Dear Agencies: Thank Sellers for Those Holiday Gifts

Digiday has written extensively about the gift economy that exists in ad sales. The imbalance between sellers and buyers means the pressure is on to curry favor with the stereotypically young and underpaid media planner. That means gifts, especially during the holiday season.

Yet some sellers are left with a hollow feeling this new year: Agency personnel, who are often thought to assume a sense of entitlement thanks to the power of the purse strings, don’t even bother to send a note of thanks. It’s an issue that’s caused a bit of a stir on ad-sales community SellerCrowd. One seller spent $1,600 on gifts without a single thank you. Most reported that less than half of agency planners bothered to respond. One seller reported spending $500 per person with a 30 percent thank-you rate.

It’s a difficult issue for agencies to navigate. As a few sellers noted, agencies during the holidays are up to their eyeballs in gift baskets. It does, however, bring up the issue of whether agency buyers overplay their upper hand with sellers. One agency executive told me he spends much time making sure his troops don’t “abuse the media community.”

“In my opinion, it goes back to how you were raised, to be honest,” one seller wrote. “Many of these people expect or do not appreciate the effort you go to and the amount of T&E it takes to organize something genuinely special. It has always pissed me off.”

The less charitable conclusion is the need to shower agencies with gifts is exposing a weakness in the digital media system. In this view, the gift economy is needed for agencies to pass off compensation costs for armies of relatively low-paid ad buyers to execute plans — and not all that well.

“The problem is that agencies just aren’t relevant in the digital space,” a seller wrote. “They hire cheap, under-qualified labor and depend on the vendor market to supplement their income so the agency can save money and use perks to justify hiring less than they’re scoped. This leads these people to believe that they deserve these gifts, when in most cases, they don’t know 20 percent of what they should know about how to do their job.”

Big issues aside, it’s never too late to thank ad sellers for their thoughtfulness.