Media negotiations are a serious business involving high stakes and equally high pressures, experienced by all parties – marketers, media agencies and media owners. There are rules of engagement – the standard do’s and dont’s of negotiation you learn via training sessions or in the plethora of books available.
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Pay attention to timing. Leave behind your ego. Read body language. Ask otherwise you won’t get. Anticipate compromise. Offer and expect commitment. Have positions A, B and C. Don’t show negative emotion, absorb the other party problems, share your lowest price, or boast a victory…
Most people naively believe that once they have learnt about the negotiation process and what the acronyms WATNA, BATNA, WAP and ZOPA stand for, that they know how to negotiate. But knowledge is not wisdom; this can only be gained in the trenches, through many years of negotiation experience with real moola – no Monopoly game!
A few of the things I’ve learnt along the way…
Negotiation is about putting people first, then business
The best negotiators are people with healthy self -awareness, who engage well with others thereby building likeability and trust. They share their needs openly and work closely with others in helping them achieve theirs. They care as much about how they conduct their lives as in the result. It is no different in the business of media negotiations.
Negotiations take so long
Long to prepare, long to conduct and even longer to sign off contractually. The longest negotiation I have experienced, extended over 11 torturous hours with a total of six protracted caucus sessions, and at the close it felt like we had all crawled up Kilimanjaro together and somehow summited – yet there was no after party – we were completely knackered!
The toughest negotiations are most often with procurement/finance (internal)
Procurement view negotiations as an activity involving a scalpel with “cost savings” as the only living survivor. To drive their on-going education I requested their attendance at key media negotiations (merely as observers) so they could experience some of the pain, learn a little about the context in which media agreements were made, and the importance of managing these relationships with less invasive tools.
Tactics often work
Most of us would agree that auditors, by the nature of their work, are scary. Years ago when an auditor joined a negotiation (representing the other party) I was a tad unnerved. Each time a new deal was proposed by our party, all ‘other party heads’ would lean in to view her updated excel spread-sheet, then lean back and sigh loudly in unison. After 20 minutes of this charade, I sent a Post It note down the table to my agency head with the instruction, “Call in the meanest looking member from your finance team to join us after the next break.” Our newly appointed auditor tapped furiously away at their keyboard for the next few hours. We oohed and aahed at his unchanging screen. The other party was visibly miffed and it positively changed the dynamic of the negotiation.
Media owners sometimes ‘walk away’, and marketers pay a high price
My negotiation team entered into an annual media negotiation with a third position television e media partner. We had 80% of the prior annual volume commitment to put on the table (due to decreased budgets and a re-alignment of our overall television strategy). Our country media cost target was – 5% YOY. This was non-negotiable and how my team and our media agency would be measured. We had not made our annual volume commitment with this player for the past two years.
They put a first offer of +5% cost increase YOY (country media inflation at 8%, country CPIX at 6%). We asked for -7% stating our global mandate for cost reduction, their poor school report of 5 % lost audience share due to an aggressive marketing strategy by one of their competitors etc. After many hours of negotiation we reached a deadlock and their last best offer put on the table was TVCPP held YOY i.e. nil increase in media cost vs. our -5% requested target. We were unable to accept this, as we had a mandate to deliver the 5%. They walked away, and it took three years to get the relationship back on track. [Note: All numbers have been changed and are therefore not factual.]
In my personal view, we should have accepted their 0% TVCPP capped offer with some other concessions. We would have fallen short of our individual TVCPP target at that negotiation, but it was not impossible to make it up with the other two television players. This was definitely my personal worst media negotiation and something I will never forget.
There is a lighter side to negotiations
Passing irreverent messages/observations/drawings onto your negotiation team via colourful Post It notes brings necessary humour to the most challenging situations. Reading other party notes upside down from a two metre distance is also great fun, and proved extremely helpful to the negotiation outcome on more than one occasion. I have also listened to someone snore through an entire negotiation – not something I would advise if you have serious career aspirations.
Debbi Dale is the author of Advertising Budgets : A Marketing & Media Sales Negotiation. How to create value beyond price.