Why Ad Sellers Shouldn’t Need Sneakers

After reading Digiday’s article on Akamai’s strategy of trading agency intro meetings for new pairs of Nike sneakers, I started wondering just how valuable a meeting is and whether or not launching these types of campaigns is in the best interest of all parties.

After selling digital media and ad tech in New York City, I am no stranger to vendor-sponsored happy hours, dinners or the occasional ball game. These events allow buyers and sellers to congregate outside office confines with “real talk” regarding business, and a setting to get to know the actual people beyond their titles and respective employers.

However, when gifting occurs simply to secure an introductory meeting, then I have to wonder: Is the vendor’s value proposition not strong enough on its own? Is the agency only finding bandwidth to meet when it’s worth it for them personally? Perhaps the agency representative is shoeless and new kicks will help them in getting to a meeting?

As a boot-strapped consultant, I don’t have the luxury of earning meetings by showing up with flashy $100-$200 sneakers. Maybe I am old school, but even in my former life as a sales rep, I would much rather not get a meeting after putting together thoughtful customized messaging that clearly outline the specific ways in which I could positively impact the business, then get on someone’s calendar by dangling a carrot. This approach can actually backfire because folks will take the bait for a meeting already knowing full well they will never work with the company — a wasteful use of resources for both parties.

In short, if a sales rep is not able to lock down a meeting with intelligent emails, phone calls and polished marketing collateral, then I’d wager it may not be a meeting worth scheduling in the first place, for either side. If a sales rep relies on the crutch of gifting in order to be seen by prospective clients then they may be in for a rude awakening.

As an agency or brand representative, time, resources, and critical business decisions should not be skewed by presents; at least over a cocktail, dinner, or Yankees game, you can talk shop and hopefully learn something new even if there isn’t a fit. Putting on fresh Nike’s may help your 5K time, but it won’t make you a better student of the game, unless you are indeed shoeless, in which case now you can make it to the office and that vendor meeting.

Seth Ulinski has held sales and business development roles with companies including AdSafe, DataXu, and Yahoo. He recently launched his own digital marketing consultancy after working in the NYC market for the past four years, selling digital media and ad tech to major agencies and Fortune 500 companies.