Brad Aigner, MD of Freshly Ground Insights, who was behind the MOST Awards research, unveils the winners and explains why they won and what trends emerged from this year’s survey.
The MOST Awards has continued to gain momentum, with another record number of respondents in 2012, its fourth year. This year, 445 respondents cast their votes for 92 listed media owners and 61 listed media agencies in the survey. In total, 5 518 votes were cast.
In addition to the research methodology, the six performance criteria against which media owner sales teams and media agencies were rated against in 2011 were retained in 2012. This consistency of approach and method has facilitated the review and analysis of trended data this year.
The regional distribution of votes were, on average, 72% from Gauteng, 20% from the Western Cape and 8% from KwaZulu-Natal. Significantly, the average number of years in the industry for media owner voters was 7.5 and 7.2 for media agency voters, indicating an experienced sample profile.
MOST for Media Owners
As in previous years, the ’overall importance‘ scores for each of the performance criteria were used to weight individual media owner performance criteria scores. While in 2009 and 2010 ‘service delivery‘ was not regarded as the most important service performance criterion for media owners, in 2011 and 2012, planners and buyers of media space clearly regarded it as the most vital one. As in all previous years (2009-2011), ’knowledge of own brands and the media landscape‘ was rated the second most important performance criteria in 2012. Interestingly, the performance criteria ’involvement‘ has steadily improved its position of importance from 2009 (fifth), to 2011 (fourth) to third in 2012. The definition of ’involvement‘ for the MOST Awards is: ”The extent to which the sales representative displays commitment and involvement in his/her media brands; the general passion and energy that the sales representative displays in his/her job; the ability and willingness of the sales rep to go the extra mile for his/her clients.” In many instances, it was this criterion that separated the best from the good media owner sales teams in this year’s MOST Awards survey.
Looking at the overall scores for media owners by category this year, there has been a significant shift upwards in rankings by the out of home (OOH) category. In 2011, OOH achieved the lowest overall average MOST score, but in 2012 OOH was top of the pops. This suggests that media owners in the OOH category have upped their game in terms of service delivery. Conversely, the digital category, which occupied the second last position in terms of overall average MOST score in 2011, claimed last spot on the list in 2012. This suggests that with categories that have relatively low barriers to entry, the proliferation of new entrants into the market has had an adverse effect on service performance levels. The message to new entrants into any media category is to pay close attention to service delivery or pay lip service to it at your peril!
MOST for Media Owners 2012 Overall Ranking
The winner of the MOST Awards for Media Owners in 2012 is Provantage Media, with last year’s winner, DStv Media Sales, just pipping Cinemark to second spot.
Provantage Media has been a strong contender in the MOST Awards, occupying one of the top slots in its category (OOH) since 2009. It is evident from its criteria scores that Provantage is at the top if its game in terms of service delivery, but has also benefitted from having an experienced team and high-profile, dynamic leadership. One respondent summed up the Provantage sales team’s service performance quite neatly with the following comment: “Very hands on”, “goes beyond the call of duty”, “friendly, fast and efficient”, “tracks everything”. “Just overall great service and work ethic”.
A notable trend in the MOST Awards year-on-year has been the positive impact that strong, high-profile leadership makes. Provantage has in Jacques Du Preez a strong leader who clearly has made his mark at agency level. Another respondent commented: “(Jacques) exhibits leadership, intelligence and innovation, hard-working, someone who is changing the outdoor environment, constantly bringing new opportunities to the industry.” It is evident from the MOST Awards results over the years that strong leaders are a sales team’s best marketing tool in agencies. Unfortunately, some of these dynamic, high-profile leaders have become swamped with administration as they have moved into higher levels of management. The result is that some sales teams have lost their best weapons.
DStv Media Sales drops to second overall position in 2012, a result that no doubt will be devastating to the team that has achieved consistently top results over the years. They say that the most difficult challenge facing the best-of-the-best is to stay the best-of-the-best and for DStv Media Sales, this was the case in 2012. A key insight from the MOST Awards over the years is that the media industry is very sensitive to change, especially in media owners’ sales leadership level. We have seen a number of cases where a media owner has gone from hero to zero due to change in its sales leadership. It has been suggested in the research that the priority should be for media owners experiencing changes in their sales leadership to settle their teams as quickly as possible and to prioritise building the profile of their new leader in agencies.
A notable new entrant into the best overall ranking in 2012 is Cinemark, the specialist cinema advertising sales arm of Ster-Kinekor. This media owner, despite experiencing significant change in its leadership personnel in recent years, has managed to move into the third overall position on the MOST Awards for media owners ranking table. While this result is contradictory to the earlier mentioned insight vis-à-vis the negative impact of change in sales leadership, it is contended that the consistency of its sales personnel at media agency level has counteracted this trend. The point is that the most important contact point for media owners is at the media agency. The Cinemark sales team has clearly delivered the goods despite the changes happening at its top levels.
Fourth spot in the overall MOST rankings this year goes to Radmark. Notably, this media owner is the only one to have won its category (Radio) every year since the inception of the MOST Awards in 2009. Clearly, a strong sales unit with strong leadership and presence in agencies, one respondent described the team as follows: “(A) great team of people who deliver their best, excellent client focus, a strong focus on innovation and providing solutions for clients, good service”.
A notable new entrant into the top five of the MOST Awards overall best ranking this year is Habari Media, which came fifth. One of the factors attributing to its success in this year’s MOST Awards is the ’involvement‘ criterion. From some of the comments, it is clear that this team likes to have fun and enjoys its job: “An innovative, fun company which prides itself in service and delivery. (Its) staff are happy and driven for the success of the company as well as their own clients and advertisers. Passion! If all media owners ran in such a manner, we would have a very vibrant industry.”
Encouragingly, it is evident from the overall rankings that the size of a media owner’s sales team is not a significant contributing factor to the ranking scores (for example: Memela Media, Primall Media and The Letter Corporation into the top 15 overall ranking). So, the overall best award should be perceived as attainable by all.
From the MOST Awards research in recent years, it is evident that one of the key differentiators between media owner sales teams is their ability to sell. And very often, it is the smaller teams that are required to sell non-mainstream media brands that are the best at selling. Indeed one of the biggest criticisms of certain large media owners selling mainstream media is that their media sales teams are ”order takers”. Of course, this is not true for all large, mainstream media owner sales teams but rather a perception precipitated by a few players that certainly adds no positive value to the overall perception of the categories in which they operate. All media sales teams need to be trained how to sell effectively. It is no longer good enough to rely on one’s social skills and ability to entertain at client lunches.
Ultimately, the MOST Awards surveys have shown that most critical to success is a sales team’s commitment to consistently delivering service excellence to its clients. To do this, media owners must ensure that their sales executives are well-trained, energised and passionate about the brands they represent. It is incumbent on top management in media owner organisations to appreciate the contribution that their agency sales teams can make to their bottom lines – if they are well-lead, well-trained, well-motivated and well-rewarded – they will deliver the goods.
MOST Media Owners 2012 Rankings by Category
A new MOST Awards innovation this year is the recognition of a media owner that did not achieve the required minimum of 30 votes to be eligible for a MOST sheep. In most instances, the media owners contending for the Lamb Award are likely to have small teams servicing their clients or a media brand that is niche in nature. In order to retain reliability in the rankings for the Lamb Award, a minimum of 24 votes was required for a media owner to qualify.
This year the winner of the inaugural Lamb Award for Media Owners is Michele Munro and Partners (MMAP), which was listed in the OOH category. Judging from this media owner’s ranking criteria scores, it is clear that it provides top-class sales service to its clients. MMAP has achieved consistently high criteria scores in the MOST Awards since its inception, especially for service excellence and knowledge of the brands that it represents. Specific mentions have been made by MOST Awards respondents referring to MMAP’s commitment to its measurement of results and strategic approach to out-of-home media selling.
MOST for Media Agencies
As in 2011, the MOST Awards for Media Agencies in 2012 showed that the performance criterion ’communication‘ by media agencies is regarded by their media owner partners as most important. In the context of these awards, this is defined as: “Clearly articulates requirements via verbal and written briefs; provides prompt and honest feedback on proposals; is able to listen to and discuss media owner proposals.”
For years now, the bugbear of many media sales executives has been the apparently poor communication from media planners in agencies. Among other things, some media representatives have cited the difficulty in getting one-on-one meeting time with key media people, long periods of non-response to proposals (despite the initial urgent request for it) and poorly prepared and/or articulated “last minute” briefs. Media agencies in turn have criticised media owner representatives for wasting their time, presenting “generic” proposals and general “harassment” with irrelevant stuff.
On this issue, the MOST Awards has shown that the key to success is clear, open and honest communication from both sides. In 2012, ’knowledge of the media landscape’ was regarded as the second most important agency performance criteria while interestingly, ’involvement’ moves up from fourth most important in 2011 to third most important in 2012. The definition of ‘involvement’ in the MOST Awards for media agencies survey was: “The extent to which the planner is genuinely interested in his/her clients’ brands. The general passion and energy that the planner displays in his/her job.” It is significant that for media agencies and media owners alike, the importance of being involved, passionate and committed to one’s job has grown in 2012. Is this an encouraging hint that the commoditisation of the art and craft of media planning and buying might be able to be counteracted by passionate, skilled and outspoken future media leaders?
MOST for Media Agencies 2012 Overall Ranking
The overall winner of the MOST Awards for media agencies for the second year running is The MediaShop (JHB), with second spot again being filled by Page 3 Media (now trading as PHD Media) and followed by new entrant into the top three, Alphabet Soup.
The MediaShop (JHB) is clearly a slick outfit that does not trade off on quality for size. Achieving particularly strong scores for the criteria ’communication‘ and ’involvement‘, The MediaShop’s informal, open-door policy has again given it the edge in 2012. One respondent commented: “They involve media owners in their clients’ brand strategies and communicate clearly what needs to be delivered from a campaign.” Another said: “They are open to meetings with media partners and happy to look at all proposals, small and large. Great communication and attitude from all staff, turn around fast, and a pleasure to serve.” And yet another said: “Clear briefs, good understanding of their clients and the media landscape. (They) do not fear media owners becoming involved with their clients as a partnership. Grow outstanding relationships with media owners.”
A key insight from the MOST Awards in recent years is that the importance of relationships has not diminished. In fact, during tough economic trading conditions, the relationships between media agencies and their media owner partners has never been of such importance. However, the caveat is that the best, most enduring relationships must always be fostered on a base of service excellence, mutual respect and open communication from both sides. The MOST Awards has shown that media owners using gimmicks and incentives to build relationships usually fall from grace, especially when the relationship-building investments they make become unsustainable.
PHD Media has proven in 2012 that its 2011 result was no fluke. Clearly, this Cape Town-based media strategy and planning specialist is punching way above its weight. From some of the comments in the survey, it is evident that the agency has placed significant importance on open communication in its dealings with media owners: “(A) well-informed agency always prepared to disclose important client info in order to obtain best media owner proposal. They are open to working together and open to new ideas. They communicate well.” Another respondent summed up the agency neatly with: “Professional, knowledgeable, genuinely interested.”
Alphabet Soup claims this year’s third position on the overall MOST for Media Agencies ranking table. Clearly, this agency is no fly-by-night as it was ranked in overall sixth position and second in the Specialist Agency category in 2011. Comments describing Alphabet Soup included:
• “Professional and communicative staff who are totally on the ball and engage with us regularly. Very proactive with their out of the box thinking”; and
• “This agency has always had an open door policy and over the years has always looked after media owners by having get-togethers. When it comes to their clients, they always want the best proposal and always give a great brief. They continue to do well and have become an agency to watch. Their staff are great and always accommodating.”
It is noteworthy that fifth position on the overall media agency rankings table is occupied by regionally-focused OMD Cape Town. Proving that regional geographical position should not compromise performance excellence, this agency was rated for its excellence in Africa: “(OMD Cape Town) Africa Division their personal knowledge and passion of the media landscapes in Africa is superior to most other media agencies in South Africa. They are incredibly professional and their work ethic is commendable.”
MOST Media Agencies 2012 Rankings by Category
Since 2011, media agencies have been ranked according to their ’full service‘ or ’specialist’ classification. ’Specialist‘ agencies were defined as companies employing their own buying or planning specialists (but not both) or providing a single specialised channel service (OOH or digital, for example).
The 2012 MOST for media agencies rankings by category were as follows:
MOST Media Agencies 2012 Lamb Award
As with the MOST Awards for media owners this year, a Lamb Award for media agencies has also been introduced. With the objective of recognising agencies that may be small in size or scope (and thereby less likely to garner the 30 vote minimum), the Lamb Award for media agencies is open to any full-service or specialist media agency that achieved 24 votes or more but less than 30 votes.
It is noteworthy that the 2012 Lamb Award for media agencies recipient, Vizeum South Africa (Cape Town), was the winner of the inaugural MOST Award for Media Agencies in 2010. Since then, the agency has grown its footprint by opening an office in Johannesburg (which was listed as a separate entity in the 2012 agencies listing). Vizeum South Africa is clearly considered a media hot-shop, with one respondent having the following to say: “(They are) the fastest growing agency, professional, client brand knowledge, efficient and overall, a great agency to work with”. Another respondent articulated some of the performance attributes that distinguishes Vizeum South Africa from the rest: “Forward thinking, create partnerships, innovative, dynamic, a great bunch of people.”
Interestingly, there were a number of agencies knocking on the door for the Lamb Award, with the likes of Vizeum (JHB), The MediaShop (CT), Initiative Media (DBN), Ogilvy (CT) and The MediaShop (DBN) all achieving more than 20 votes, but just missing the 24-vote minimum.
Conclusion and Insights
The MOST Awards has shown that superior performance and service is not the exclusive domain of the big players in our industry. Any media owner sales team or media agency, irrespective of size, may lay claim to the coveted award. However, what is required is a sincere commitment to performance excellence. And performance excellence requires equal effort from managers and employees alike.
The MOST Awards has also shown that our industry operates in a state of dynamic tension that is influenced by things like the state of the media economy, the availability and movement of key people and the changing needs of customers. It is the companies that have been able to adapt most smoothly to these influences that have achieved consistently good MOST Awards ratings.
The absolute point of commonality relating to recognition and success in our industry, irrespective of which side of the fence one is on, is people. The MOST Awards has shown that people are the key driver of growth for the media industry. The media agencies and media owners with the best, most energised and most valued people will thrive.
This story was first published in the September 2012 issue of The Media magazine.