Renewing The Vows

Recently I decided I needed a new home-theater system. The one I have was top of the line when I bought it. But I’ve been reading all about new products, and I began to fear that my equipment was inadequate, outdated, not as good as it used to be. I figured I’d see what was out there.

I researched all the coolest stuff, compared the latest and greatest. Man, was it fun. I knew I’d need new speakers (nine of them), and what’s the point without getting the latest huge plasma TV? Before taking the plunge, I went to consult with my guy at Tweeters. He lives this stuff every day.

Then something interesting happened.

I began to feel that I really didn’t need a new system. I don’t use everything my current system has to offer. I wound up going through my owner manuals, turned on a few things, bought some new cables, and although I’m not sure anything is actually different, I am happy once again.

What does any of this have to do with looking for a new media agency?

Lately there’s been a dramatic increase in searches for media resources available from media-services companies and full-service agencies. The reasons for it are unclear. But I speculate that the fear of ad-skipping technology is a factor.

DVRs are changing the way we use television. XM and Sirius, with their ad-free channels, are on a path to be a significant competitor to broadcast radio. The Do Not Call List has allowed millions of people to remove themselves from telemarketing databases. Spam-blocking software is standard on almost every new computer.

Marketers are worried that they are losing control of their best and most intrusive media vehicles to the consumer. Some of the sleepless are searching to see if anyone has found the Holy Grail that their current media agency apparently doesn’t possess. The truth is that no one has, but everyone lays claim to having the next best thing.

As a longtime media-industry veteran, my advice for clients is to look deep within their own media partner while they research alternatives. Most media agencies are far better at representing their latest innovations to prospective clients than to existing ones. This is true of almost any service provider. (When was the last time your telco, cable or high-speed Internet provider called you to promote a better package of services for a lower rate?)

Whoah, you say. Is this a search consultant advising companies not to initiate an agency review? Yes and no. Well, maybe. The urge to review, or even to explore options, is a symptom of something fundamental, often well below the surface.

Here’s what a marketer should do:

—Start at the top of the media agency, and involve everyone who helped influence the original decision that resulted in its selection. (Agency senior management is always passionate about keeping the relationship and may not be aware that a problem, or potential problem, even exists.)

—Determine if what the media partner is providing is actually inadequate. The biggest failure of most agencies is in not merchandising their work to their clients.

—See if the media agency can help be more effective with the company’s resources. Too often, the agency’s sense of a client’s satisfaction inhibits its motivation to initiate change.

—Evaluate if the company is using everything the media agency can deliver. Have the agency pitch its latest and greatest as though it were talking to a prospect rather than a client.

In the end, the company may find that the new media agency it desires is already on board. If not, then it is time to open the doors to a review. Either way, the client will have a better idea of how its goals and needs are perceived. It will also know if it wants the current agency to participate in the review, and the agency’s decision to pitch to keep the business will be less emotional.

The process described here will require, at minimum, an investment of time and energy. But in terms of time alone, a review is much more costly. However, the cost of doing nothing is the far greater.

Incidentally, I have two older top-of-the-line home-theater systems collecting dust, if anyone is interested.

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