Integrated Media Sales

Thinking Small.

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I just finished the first installment of Bart Cleveland’s excellent series of  “Interviews with Small Agency Leaders on the Ad Age site.   What struck me most was not just how smart and strategic these small shops sound, but just how much their survival strategies sound like what media sales organizations ought to be doing.  In stark contrast to the platitudes and wishful thinking that leaked out of the recent 4As “Transformation” conference, the views of small agency leaders sound immediate, realistic and compelling.

To kick off the piece, each agency leader answered the question What do you believe is the greatest opportunity for small firms? My own comments follow each…

Paul Crawford, Scout Branding Co.: “Small agencies should spend less time trying to impress their friends and competitors with their press releases and blogs and pick out a big company that they have a passion for and pursue them with well thought out ideas.  Not headlines and killer ad layouts, but rather help them solve the business problems that wake them up at 2 a.m.”

Over the years, I’ve watched far too many small and mid-sized publishers trying to win the hearts and minds of advertisers and investors by fighting a proxy war in the press.  Problem is, even if you do it well the benefits last exactly one news cycle and then the pack moves on.  Instead, as Crawford says so eloquently, make some choices;  Pick a customer for whom your ‘firm’s’ talents and resources match up well and form a strategy for winning a permanent place in their hearts.  The war is won in the boardrooms of major marketers, not in Valley Wag or MediaPost.

Chris Staples, ReThink: “The bottom line is this: Clients don’t need a digital agency.  They need strategy, ideas and content for the digital age.  [They] don’t need a social-media agency, they need a communications strategy that is inherently social.”

Loved this one, too.  Too often publishers lose site of the marketing forest for all the digital, social and mobile ‘trees.’  We complain about being relegated to the ghetto of paltry digital budgets, while failing to realize that our own parochial language and thinking are what’s keeping us away from the big table of strategy.  Unless we ground our teams and our approach in smart, holistic marketing strategy, we run the risk of being the next generation of  ‘clueless ad people.’

Alec Beckett, Nail: “Our scale allows a kind of intimacy and immediacy in the relationship with many of our clients that morphs our role from being a vendor to becoming their de-facto marketing [department].  That feels like a model that will have more and more relevance as brands need to become more nimble and creative in the new world of ‘dialogue based’ marketing that we’re entering.”

Small and mid-size publishers:  strategic engagement is a great leveler of the playing field.  When you’re engaged with marketing strategy, there’s no such thing as being ‘too small.’  You may not have the biggest boats in the sea, but you can turn and maneuver them to great effect.  To all ad sales organizations:  the loaded phrase here is “…the relationship with many of our clients that morphs our role from being a vendor to becoming their de-facto marketing [department]. This is the real promise for the sales organization in the digital age:  to transcend the vendor’s role and to move ever close to brand strategy.  And today’s brands are increasingly open to having new players at the table, be they small agencies or smart media sales teams.

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The Downstream Effect

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Why go to the trouble and effort of bringing  your customers big, creative deals when the batting average for such deals hovers well below .100?  Why expend the creativity, vision and ambition to develop these “Black Swan” deals if the vast majority of your business will flow in through normal transactional channels?   To really understand the rationale, you need to factor in The Downstream Effect.

A senior industry executive reminded me of this during a workshop I conducted  last week.  To paraphrase:  Our company must have brought one customer at least 15 big, cross-media ideas over the course of two years.  We’d have great discussions but ultimately they didn’t buy a single one.  Yet, quietly, their spending with us grew 500% over those two years, all of it coming to us through normal channels.

So what’s going on here?  Is this business the company would have gotten anyway?  Was this all a lot of arm flapping?  Unlikely.  The sales organization that  consistently pushes smart ideas up to the customer is winning even when it doesn’t land the sexy ‘Black Swan’ deals.  It’s  getting regular access to primary upstream decision makers and self-branding along the way.  When well-executed, the process itself has value to the marketer.  They learn and grow along the way — they enjoy the process — and they subtly but measurably reward companies who make the effort.  Here’s a checklist to follow if you want to prepare your sales team to bring quality ideas to clients and enjoy the benefits of doing so:

Have a Point of View: Your team needs to have strategic yet dynamic POV on the customer’s marketing and competition, and your ideas should flow directly from it.  Every member of the team should be able to articulate it simply and clearly.   The client will know instinctively that you’re not just throwing stuff against the wall.

Build from Strength: The best ideas aren’t invented, they’re aggregated.  What you do for a client should be based on those things that your company does really well.  So what are your strengths?  What can you put on your “First/Best/Only” list?

Collaborate: Marketing ideation isn’t a talent show, yet too many organizations focus too much energy on preparing beautiful decks and demos instead of opening up the process to the customer.  Don’t stage a presentation; host a whiteboard session.  A client will always build something bigger with you than he’ll buy from you.

Strategy Doesn’t Travel North: If you’re trying to drive ideas up through planning teams or on the back of RFPs, you’re wasting your time.  You need to create an open channel to the marketer and to the strategic agency people they speak to every day.  And never ever throw your ideas over the wall via e-mail; if it’s worth consideration then it’s worth a face-to-face meeting or WebEx.

There’s no reason to choose between strategic, creative sales and your everyday transactional business.  You can have both, and thanks to the Downstream Effect, one will actually feed the other.

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Media Without Borders

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To those who might have been confused by my “farewell” column” (The Truth) last week, please accept my apology, reread the first paragraph and pay close attention to point number two. Now – freed of the eventual burden of a final Drift – I’m back to writing the column on a more-or-less regular basis. Enjoy.

At the recent iMedia Brand Summit, I interviewed both Larry Kramer, President of CBS Digital Media, and Caroline Little, CEO of Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, on the transitions being made by major terrestrial media companies in today’s freewheeling digital age. We chose the theme “Media withoutBorders”  (iMedia Summit)  for these discussions, reasoning that as content assets and the tools of newsgathering and content creation all become digitized, media disciplines and boundaries would blur.

At the very same conference, Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT spoke of a convergence culture (http://www.imediaconnection.com/summits/coverage/8164.asp) in which it was more important to generate emotional capital than to police intellectual property. He showed examples of how “clueless corporations” had struck back at fans who’d dared to gush about their favorite movies and games online. (“Take that photo of you in the Jar-Jar Binks costume off your site immediately!”) We all shook our heads in unison and traded knowing looks.

This week we saw that one man’s free trade zone is another’s electric fence. NBC Universal unleashed the bloodhounds and border guards in pursuit of YouTube.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/20/business/media/20youtube.html?_r=3&oref=slogin&oref=slogin&oref=slogin) which had posted viral clips of a Saturday Night Live bit called “Lazy Sunday.” In protecting its copyrights, NBC said it would still let people view the video for free on NBC.com or buy it on iTunes for $1.99. My purpose in writing about this incident is not to throw rocks at NBC; it’s quite possible that they had little choice in the matter given contractual obligations to the on-air talent and to iTunes. It’s more instructive to look at the short- and long-term implications for media and content owners.

In protecting its copyrights NBC is telling potential viewers (coincidentally the same kind of 12-30-year-olds who could reinvigorate the moribund SNL franchise) “we will dictate the time and place you will interact with this content.” You can come to the NBC Website – which we can imagine is ground zero for today’s youth culture – or you can pay two bucks and have it sit on your computer or iPod (with, presumably, limitations on sharing). NBC and SNL end up with some page views and their accompanying ad impressions, and a revenue split with Steve Jobs on a couple hundred thousand dollars in downloads. End of story. The bit does not live on in perpetuity like legendary SNL gags of the past like Samurai Delicatessen or Gumby or even Makin’ Copies. Instead it fades from public consciousness; subsequent episodes of the bit are greeted with shrugs and never mentioned around the water cooler; and “Lazy Sunday” stars Chris Parnell and Andy Samberg don’t get the movie deals that were once a birthright for SNL headliners. Worse yet, NBC fails to reinvigorate a franchise that desperately needs some juice. Ironically, someone in the network marketing department is probably having a meeting right now about starting a viral campaign to support the show – even as legal affairs is snuffing one out.

Let’s look at another scenario. Equipped with their own digital tools, the uber-nerds of the millennial generation take a liking to “Lazy Sunday” and begin posting and swapping the file. The bit becomes an online phenomenon and ends up passed around by hundreds of thousands of young potential viewers. Blogs and discussion groups spring up among the enamored. Future episodes of SNL with new “Lazy Sunday” bits are greeted with great anticipation, spiking viewership at least moderately. Parnell and Samberg become household names among 20-something ironics. Alerted to the continued existence of SNL, they start picking up and sharing other bits they see. Within weeks, Saturday Night Live regains its water cooler impact — not because it’s pumping the ratings from 1977, but because it’s now become the weekly comedy version of a Grateful Dead concert that legions of loyal fans want to talk about.

Again, NBC may have had no real choice in how it handled this situation. But if I were building or maintaining an entertainment franchise in today’s ADD media world, I’d bet on scenario B over the course they’ve chosen. Aside from the occasional prime time breakout (American Idol or Desperate Housewives) networks rarely spawn their own viral phenomena – and even the monster hits tend to have a relatively short viral shelf-life.

Jeff Zucker hasn’t asked for my advice, but if he did it would be simple. Young viewers are never going to say, “Dude this is really sick! Go to NBC.com and check it out.” The internet is now the third rail of entertainment. So lose some control, plug in and trust your customers. They just might reward you big time.

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver

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The Truth

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This is the final edition of “The Drift.”

But let me be clear. You see, I’m going to write the column for a long time to come, God willing. It’s just that I decided to write the final one now, while I’m still relatively young and lucid. I mean, who wants to try to come up with something strong ten or fifteen years from now? Besides, I’m writing this on board one of those rickety propeller planes and if that doesn’t bring at least a fleeting consideration of mortality, nothing will. (If you’re reading this, I landed OK. Dell hasn’t released a black-box, flight recorder model laptop yet.)

In this, my farewell column, I want to leave something special to all those terrific interactive sales professionals I’ve worked with over the years. So in the time I’ve got left before all portable electronic devices need to be powered down, here it is: The Truth about your life in sales.

1.  THE OPPOSITE OF YES ISN’T NO.  The opposite of yes is anything except yes. Buyers just don’t say no. To quote Guy Kawasaki, “there’s just no upside to communicating a negative decision.” If you haven’t heard yes; if you haven’t gotten true commitment – and you’re always sure when you do – then you’ve been turned down and you’ve got more work to do. Save hope for things like Middle East peace. It has no place in your forecasting.

2.  FAST IS GOOD, BUT GOOD IS BETTER.  All your digital appliances and constant connectivity are conspiring to make you look stupid. Just because you can respond instantly to every collection of bits that hit your e-mail or crackberry doesn’t mean you should. Some of the smartest things I ever said are things I never said. A minute or one extra reading can make all the difference in the outcome of a deal, the survival of a relationship, your career.

3.  STOP ASKING “GREAT QUESTIONS” AND START BEING INTERESTED.  A sales meeting isn’t the invasion of Normandy. Stop overthinking and overplanning the conversation. Human beings want to be heard and understood. They want to be appreciated and to feel interesting and wise. The very best salespeople are those who bring a warm curiosity to the meeting. They delight in learning and they listen to understand.

4.  WHEREEVER YOU ARE, BE THERE. Sales is a great job, but it can be pretty consuming. When you’re doing it, give it your all. But when you’re not supposed to be doing it – like, say, when you’re with your kids or visiting your aging parents – then let it alone. You don’t lose the spouse and kids because you travel or work long hours; you lose them because even when you’re there you’re not really there. We look back at the 1960s and bemoan a generation of executives who lived at work. Are we the generation who never unplugged?

5.  CLIENTS AREN’T MONOGAMOUS. They don’t even get married. If you’re waiting for a moment when you’ll achieve permanence in a customer relationship, you’re baying at the moon. Your life is going to be more like the one Adam Sandler experienced in “50 First Dates.” Assume you’ve got to keep proving yourself and making them fall in love with you all over again, every single day.

6.  IF YOU’RE NOT DIFFERENT, YOU’RE DONE. Never forget that every customer has seen hundreds of predictable salespeople and thousands of lame PowerPoint slides before you walk in the door. If you can be only one thing, for God’s sake be unique. Think about the things that a “salesperson” would ordinarily do at a given moment… and then do just the opposite. If you’re not unique, it won’t matter how good you are because you’ll never really be heard anyway.

7.  TRAJECTORY IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MASS. All those statistics you’ve collected about the size of your audience and your share of the market don’t mean much. Nobody wants to know how much the car weighs; they want to know where it’s going. This is where real vision and leadership matter in a sales organization. If you can’t tell a good story about where your company is going, ask your leadership. If they don’t know, then you’ve got bigger problems than your next sale.

8.  ACHIEVEMENT IS TERRIFIC, BUT JOY IS LASTING. Sure, make your numbers. But don’t think that numerical success alone will sustain you. Look at the ten most “successful” people you know and you’ll find that they’re all constantly finding little sources of joy. A great business friendship. A terrific meeting. Mentoring somebody. When your kids grow up they may not know or remember much about the details of your career. But they’ll remember whether you loved your work or not.

9.  STOP FIXING YOUR WEAKNESSES. Bad management is like bad education. It’s all about bringing up that “C” on the report card. If you hate getting up in front of a room of 20 people and think you suck at it, you probably do. Build on your strengths instead. Help your manager understand the things that you’re really good at and ask her to help you plan your success based on them. That’s what great managers do. And don’t you deserve a great manager?

10. THERE IS NO NUMBER 10.  When you’ve said enough, stop. Quit while you’re ahead.

It’s been great writing for you. And it will be again.

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver

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