This industry is notorious for doing a lot of complaining about what they are experiencing but not really doing anything about it. Wicus Swanepoel goes for the jugular.
A while back I wrote an article about media agencies being ‘under threat’. I said that client procurement was slowly strangling media agencies. I had a lot of responses, but I was quite disappointed that no-one took me on about it. I like good debate. However, everyone seemed to be in agreement: things are spiralling out of control.
But you know, it’s a little bit like watching someone trip and fall. Most of us instinctively want to go over and help, but we never really do. It’s easier just to look away and pretend that we didn’t see it. Some of us even snigger as we turn around and others (the minority) feel a little guilty for not helping.
What have we done in the last year? Have we stood up collectively and said “enough is enough”? Has anyone fired a consistently rude or unreasonable client? Or one who continuously pays late (or never)? Or have we just carried on as before, forever moaning at dinner parties that “things are just not the same” and how the industry is falling apart?
I think you know the answer.
But I’m a little bit like a bad rash: I never really go away. And like a bull terrier, I’m not going to let go of this. We need to talk and we need to keep on asking “what are we doing?”
In said article I wrote about the vicious sick cycle we’re trapped in and one of the symptoms of this cycle is a lack of training.
It’s another one of my favourite topics, so let’s dig in!
Our industry has a serious lack of skill and if we want to have a vibrant and healthy media planning and buying environment in five years time, we need to address this shortage.
A year or so back I asked a few TV planners “what is a CPP”? They all looked at me as if I had just asked them if our president was black. But eventually someone answered “it’s a cost per point”. “Yes”, I replied, “but what does it mean?”
No one could tell me. Well, not immediately. It was only after a lot of coaxing that someone eventually said “it’s the cost of buying one AR (audience rating)”.
I was a little freaked out. Here was a bunch of people who had all been planning for two or three years (on big pieces of business, I should add) and they could not explain a most elementary concept within media planning.
And I can carry on. The other day I did a training session with some planners. I asked a few simple questions, testing their knowledge of the South African media landscape. Which Afrikaans paper covers the Free State? Is Kaya FM a regional station? Which magazine has the highest paid-for circulation? To say the least, I was stunned to hear the answers (or rather, the silence).
The worst part is that, I repeat, some of these people are running big accounts within their agencies. And they make recommendations to clients about how to spend their money and in which channels. But they can’t tell me which radio station has the most listeners in the country. Well, they probably could, but only after they had done an AMPS run on Telmar first.
But don’t be too judgmental. Are they really to blame? If we’re honest, then only in part.
You see, when you’re desperate for staff and a young one in your team shows half a brain cell and loads of passion, you’ll promote her. Because it’s easier to promote from within than to find a new person (and there aren’t very many to choose from in any event).
So sadly your ‘new manager’ ends up running a R100-million piece of business. Clever enough to do television plans, but not good enough to understand what makes a good plan. There is not even any robust and added value discussion. This youngster is definitely not skilled enough in handling a marketing director who has been in the business for 20 years and who knows his stuff.
A recipe for disaster, if you ask me.
So are we surprised then when clients put their accounts out to pitch?
Well, we should be, because it’s also partly client’s fault too.
Because if they paid their agencies more, their agencies would be able to appoint more people. Better people. People who could train more people. And ultimately, the client would benefit from this.
Maybe then we’d be able to lure the defectors back, the senior ones who left because they were not prepared to work 15 hour days any longer.
Then they could train the juniors (and the middle weights) to not only become better media people, but to become better client service people too. Herein lies a big problem: a lot of good media people cannot handle the ‘client service’ side of things.
And just because someone is good at their job, doesn’t mean she’d be a good manager too.
What’s worse is that these mid-level managers are often left to their own devices. They work ridiculous hours to try and ‘get things done’. But while a lot of them have the ability to do the media side of things, they don’t have the skill to deal with ‘human’ issues and situations and they often mess things up.
The reality is that for many, the pressure just becomes too much and they crack. They burn out. Or bail out. They become media owners. Yes, I know of quite a few very talented youngsters who have ended up as sales people or ‘in-house media planners’. And why not? They now work half the time and earn double the money.
Isn’t it time we ask “WTF?” Or are we just going to sit back and watch how the industry trips and falls?
In fairness, I know of certain smaller media agencies who do not do work for peanuts – they’d rather turn business away. And their staff is happy and not overworked. They don’t even know how to spell the word ‘burnout’.
Like the MD of one of the smaller agencies said, “I want a fresh team with great ideas. Not a burnt out bunch, unable to provide creative media solutions.”
So why can’t the bigger agencies get it right then?
Hmm, I smell a rat. A global rat. Is it maybe because some big shot in a fancy office in London (who probably could not point to South Africa on a map, never mind ever having been here), is telling our local guy how to run his shop? Because he’s just doing what his boss is telling him to do (yes sweet pea, everybody has a boss). It’s all about head count and cost-to-revenue ratios…and all sorts of other boring corporate financial terms.
Shame on you. And shame on the masters you serve too.
Some agencies have not been able to give their staff salary increases for two or three years now. Doesn’t the thought of that make clients feel bad? Knowing that it’s because they were not prepared to agree to decent remuneration for their agencies?
Anyway, I could go on and on, but I need to wrap up.
Mr and Mrs Client, next time you want to complain about the juniors working on your business and their lack of skill, first ask yourself “could this be my own doing?” And even if you’re not prepared to be honest, then at least ask: “could I change this?”
Think about it and think about it carefully.
Don’t be one of those people who in five years from now, when the whole lot has imploded, ask “HTF did this happen?”
(Thanks to all the MDs who gave me their two cents’. I’m sorry I didn’t give any of you credit in this article. However, if I get a lot of flak, I’ll publish your names in the next issue…)
Wicus Swanepoel is a media strategist / consultant at 1910 Pounds, his own company.