‘They need to put things into a spreadsheet’: Confessions of a media exec on ad buyers

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Brands are pumping more money into non-standard ad formats like branded content, but sometimes the hardest part of the sell can be brands’ media agencies. In the latest in our Confessions series, in which we grant anonymity for honesty, we spoke to a digital media executive whose company primarily makes its money from non-traditional advertising, like branded content and in-person events, about the biggest obstacle to doing those deals.

What’s the biggest impediment to your business?
I wish the media agencies would go away.

Why’s that?
Because they’re not incentivized to make innovation happen. They still are often living in this world of web-based impressions, banners, programmatic advertisements that, understandably, are very measurable from a quantitative perspective. But for digital advertising to move forward, we need to come up with stuff that hasn’t happened already, new ways to market to an audience, to measure whether something is successful. But the way the model works right now is the media agency requires there to be a rigid format via which the success of campaigns are measured. I mean, they’re still having problems figuring out how to measure social marketing.

Do you do things to work around the media agencies?
We are always, trying, and luckily we’ve been successful. Yeah, it’s critical you have a relationship directly with the brands.

Do the media agencies try to put themselves in the middle of it anyway?
Sure. Sometimes there’s a contract there that requires they be involved. And some brands understand that and say, “Look, we’ll figure out how to work with you and the media agency together.” We have plenty of examples of relationships where we work with the brand directly, and they bring in the media agency, and we all together figure out how to make something work for everyone involved. But more often than not, the marketer is the one legitimizing stuff to the media agency, where the media agency is saying, “How are you going to spend this much money on this?” or “This doesn’t make sense. This isn’t the way we do things.” There’s always this sort of “We have to fit this into the media agency box,” and that kills deals sometimes.

What’s an example of how a media agency has mucked up a deal with a brand?
A lot of times they need to put things into a spreadsheet, to say, “Here are the impressions, here’s the reach.” Often their models are built to deliver eyeballs at scale and to find the highest value CPMs available.

Have you had to do things to please the media agency to get the deal you want with the brand?
We have to play that game, for sure. There’s still money being made there. It doesn’t mean that it’s not worthwhile to pursue a deal from a media agency because they often connect us to brands that we wouldn’t otherwise be connected to. But ultimately we want to have a relationship with the brand, to sit in the room with the marketer and say, “What do you want to do? How can we help you do that?”

For more confessions like this one, download our complete agency confessions collection.


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