Breaking With Tradition

As we continue to plan and replan strategy for 2009, the media community must not follow the norm. Traditionalist buyers need to look beyond their purist ways and actually be, well, creative.

On both sides of the desk media people who in better economic times would simply take orders must now go out and actually create their opportunities.

In many ways, it appears that some of us have been stifled by recessionary metrics. Now, more than ever, sticking only to “tried-and-true” business practices spells “dead and buried.” Let’s strive to make a clean break from our old ways and proactively make changes that improve client services and what we should begin referring to as the “strategic sales process.”

During the past two months alone we’ve experienced a huge increase in calls from prospective clients looking for innovative options for media planning and buying. They can no longer afford the traditional agency model approach. Over the same time we’ve had illuminating discussions with media sellers that previously had just taken our buy orders, but now are willing to actually invest time and imagination in our clients’ goals.

Being creative can mean partnerships, integration and public relations stunts, to name a few ideas. The reality is that these will probably work for companies that are also looking for added-value opportunities. As much as these media organizations need to drive ad revenue, they also need to look for ways to reinvent and grow their brands with less cash.

On the rare occasion in the past when marketing and advertising sales attempted to work together, the process typically became riddled with idle asks and no real upside revenue potential.

Times are very different today. We must force this relationship to work for our collective benefit. While seemingly a reasonable request, let’s face it-as much as ad industry executives want to change or be progressive, they tend to get pulled back into the large media company mind-set or a personal sameness rut. But not pursuing or forcing creative sales/buying strategies will surely hurt now and in the long term.

There are a few things to keep in mind. First, clients rarely have the large budgets that are required to accomplish what they want via traditional paid media plans. Second, we all must look beyond the numbers. It may hurt and possibly we’ll be viewed as crazy, but take a chance on quality. Consider creative avenues that will significantly increase the value of the plan beyond your client’s spend-it will pay off in both the short and long term.

I therefore ask my friends on the selling side:

• Don’t sell to me!

• Give deeper consideration of your product and my client’s assets beyond the cash linked to the buy. We’re looking for

a true two-way partnership, not just another rote vendor transaction.

• Invest some time and learn how we and our clients will gauge success.

• Don’t be afraid to walk away from my offer.

• Create packages to protect your value, but also give us what we need to be successful in the eyes of our clients.

• Drop the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. We did and it’s already working for our agency.

In the end, we must get aggressive, do more than just send e-mails for avails, and be a part of the solution. You need to know your goal-sets and be able to clearly explain them to your vendors.

For my colleagues running agencies or buying media:

• Get a 50-pound sledgehammer and smash your normal practices into tiny pieces. They’re not now, nor have they been working to create desired services or value for you.

• Rewrite your philosophy based on the best client feedback available.

• Each month, ask your clients how you’re doing and what can be done to make the relationship better. Often, clients will ask the same of you. What better way to preserve business and to grow creatively than unfettered dialogue?

• Don’t be afraid to ask for proper compensation.

How many clients hate their underpaid agencies, and how many agencies take losses just to work on a piece of business? How the heck did we get here? Answer: Poor negotiators who will do anything to close a deal.

Again, don’t be afraid to walk away from a subpar negotiation. The flip side is that agencies and their clients who honestly seek a higher moral ground may find themselves immersed in the type of true partnerships that have been the foundation of this industry.

Sure, things are tough, but these challenging times clearly demand heavy doses of creativity. Let’s collectively move our businesses away from the business-as-usual past and into a smarter, more relevant future.

Craig Woerz is co-founder and managing partner of South Norwalk, Conn.-based Media Storm.