Agency Execs Cash In on Investor Q&As

If you’re an agency executive looking to make a little extra cash this week, why not sell your industry knowledge and insights to some third parties on the side? Those are the relationships so-called “expert networks” are facilitating, paying agency staffers to take calls with investment bankers and others interested in making money off their insider knowledge.

The demand for agency insight is rising as more ad-backed Internet businesses go public. IPOs by companies such as LinkedIn, Groupon and, of course, Facebook are creating increased demand. The payoff is pretty straightforward: an agency exec can pocket a few hundred dollars for an hourlong phone call.

It’s a win-win, say the networks, which include companies such as GLG Research, Primary Insight Group, and Coleman Research Group. A typical client such as a hedge fund manager gets some better insight into the ad business, while the agency exec pockets a little extra cash. The network itself takes a cut too, of course.

A hedge fund manager, for example, might want access to a media buyer at a major agency to get a sense of what trends they’re seeing in budget allocation and spending shifts related to Facebook. An investment banking analyst, meanwhile, might be eager to hear how Google’s latest product changes could impact other companies and then rate stock accordingly.

“The client is usually just trying to understand the ecosystem better, because none of them have actually had to run these campaigns before,” said Kevin Lee, a respected search engine marketer who sells his time through GLG Research.

One agency executive who works with one of the networks said under the condition of anonymity that he does not discuss agency-specific matters and that his senior management has to sign off on his calls. In other words, they’re not that concerned.

Most of the information is, or will soon be, publicly available anyway, he said. Ultimately, it’s just easier and cheaper for clients to spend 30 minutes on a paid call with an agency staffer than to spend five hours collating and filtering the information themselves, he suggested. The agency, of course, doesn’t get a piece of the action, with the pay going directly to the executive.

“It’s basically just a consultancy role, and most of the time you’re just validating or confirming assumptions people already have. It’s not like I’m giving them information about specific companies that will soon be receiving an influx of cash.”

Lee said he’s not aware of clients expressing concern about their spending habits being discussed in this way. “Because it’s so aggregated, I’ve never heard of it being an issue,” he said. “It’s more about educating people than it is sharing specific insights. Nobody would expect a specific client to be brought up in conversation.”

Despite that fact, agency execs taking payment for this type of activity are still reluctant to talk publicly about it. Digiday spoke with three senior agency executives for this story who admitted to using the services but would not talk on the record about the fact.

That implies that regardless of what actually takes place on the calls, agencies would prefer the calls stay below the radar.

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