What Agencies Really Think of Publishers

Last week, Digiday gave publishers the opportunity to air frustrations about their agency clients. This week, we turned the tables and gave agencies the chance to have their say.

The differences in views from the two sides of the table are interesting. Publishers had no shortage of complaints about their agency clients: They’re rude, demanding and potentially lazy. But agencies, on the whole, appear to think their relationships with publishers are pretty good, as long as they’re responsive and communicative. Just don’t try to cut them out the loop and go direct to their clients. This could speak directly to the supply-demand imbalance. These days it’s better to be on the buy side than the sell side.

Do you work at an agency and have an opinion you’d like to share? Please email me at the address below; we’d love to hear your thoughts.

What are the biggest frustrations you face when dealing with publishers?
Agency A: Publishers going around agencies is the worst. We don’t need to control every interaction — in fact, I want the best publishers to have relationships with my clients — but don’t undermine the agency, and don’t go direct without talking to us first. The end-around complicates the transaction, and hurts our relationship.

Agency B: A frequent point of contention we face when working with publishers is around simple communication. Often a publisher will schedule meetings with clients to discuss opportunities that have already been pitched to them by their agency or deemed not relevant. This jump in the communication funnel wears on the agencies’ efforts to streamline information for the client and is often redundant.

Agency C: Turnover can be an issue, on both the buy side and the sell side. This industry moves rapidly, and often so do the people. Relationships are important, and they can be difficult to build as a result.

Agency D: The more junior folks on either side tend to take more of an us-vs.-them approach. As you rise the ranks and form tight relationships with those on the other side, you begin to empathize and realize that each side of the desk comes with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. But we’re both extremely busy, and our time is precious. Neither side should do anything to waste it. That means sellers walking through 50 unnecessary slides, for example, but it also means agency folks standing up sellers. Ultimately, we’re both here to serve clients, so both sides should be collaborating and getting on the same page, not trying to go behind each other’s backs.

What could publishers do to improve their relationships with agencies?
Agency B: Good publishers have a a strong respect and understanding for the fast-paced environment of this industry. Response time and direct contact are important for us to rely on when advertisers are ready to make quick decisions. Communications need to be seamless.

Agency A: Agencies always want “never been done before,” and publishers always want “easily repeatable.” That’s a tension that’s not likely to go away. However, publishers that are able to package ideas in unique and creative ways do stand out and do earn more budget because of it. Some are willing to do that heavy lifting, while the ones that aren’t and are looking for standard campaigns will have to be satisfied with lower budgets.

Agency E: I think publishers have gotten better in the last five years. They’ve gotten more multimodal and more solution-oriented. I think it’s because they have more content and channels to leverage. From our experience when we adhere to the golden rule, we always have a good experience: When we brief them well and give them good feedback, we wind up with good ideas and a strong relationship.

Agency B: Digital is now benefiting from having real pros at executive levels that have raised the bar for publishers. The decade of training provided by Doug Weaver at Upstream and the examples set by people like Scot McLernon at Yume, Nada Stirrat at Axciom, Nick Johnson and Peter Naylor at NBC and even Tim Armstrong in his Google days, have made a difference. All of those people work with agencies, not against them. They’ve set a standard for how to be successful, and if a publisher doesn’t operate in the same fashion now, it’s noticed by the agency world.