Last week I suggested that the AMF could do well to consider developing appropriate guidelines for media agency interaction with media owners, writes Britta Reid. One of the advantages of still having good proportion of tenacious experienced people in the industry is that they are the custodians of institutional memory.
In this instance, it was Bryan Gibson who delved back into the archives and swiftly responded to my article. He shared two documents, which had been written in 2001 by the Media Directors Circle (MDC). The first was a Media Owner Partner Charter and the second was a set of Guidelines For Media Owners: Incentive Schemes.
For the newer members of the industry, it is probably useful to point out that the MDC was the organisation that preceded the Advertising Media Forum (AMF). Founded in the ’80s, it was an organisation of those people who had obtained the title of media director. As such it was, arguably, a fairly exclusive club. It was subsequently replaced by the AMF, which more expansively defines itself as a “collective of media agencies and individuals including media strategists, planners, buyers and consultants through whom 95% of all media expenditure in South Africa is bought.”
Although nearly a decade and a half has passed since the media directors of the time applied their minds to issues bedevilling the relationships between media owners and Media Agencies, the documents remain remarkably relevant. The thinking behind them is solid and sound, and the issues do not seem to have fundamentally changed.
The opening paragraph of the Media Owner Partnership Charter emphasises that it was intended to represent “a step towards a more professional media industry”. In fact, it provides a basic and sensible foundation for a professional media industry.
Significantly, the opening paragraph immediately highlights that the intention was not to provide a “one-sided dictate”, and welcomes “any input from any industry member that will improve the document”. It goes on to remind readers that both media agency and media owner share a “primary mutual goal to build the client’s business”, and should treat each other as partners in this endeavour.
A number of the points in the Charter cover what could be considered basic manners. Examples of these are:
– mutual punctuality for appointments
– timeous cancellation of meetings if necessary
– returning phone calls and emails
– responding to invitations by the required deadline and, perhaps even more importantly, actually attending the functions. Alternatively giving the earliest possible notice if unable to attend.
Given the pressures under which both media agency and media owner personnel work, it is useful to remind people of these courtesies.
More importantly, the Charter highlights the need for the professional sharing of information. The role of the media owners is defined as “sharing new media opportunities and new information, which will grow clients’ business”. The repetition of the adjective “new” firmly places the onus on the media owners to provide valuable information that is not simply available in industry studies such as AMPS. It gives them an educative role, which the agency staff, are required to recognise. The media owners are urged to make their presentations as “meaningful, professional and as brief as possible”.
Counterbalancing these responsibilities, the Charter requires that media agencies provide media owners with “sufficiently detailed briefs” when requesting proposals. It stresses that media owners are entitled to an explanation when their proposals are rejected, unless there are confidential strategic reasons.
It addresses another bone of contention by stating that media owners are entitled to present directly to clients providing the agency has been given the same information. In addition, it asks that the agency should be informed of the presentation date. This is entirely fair. It allows the agency to either attend if the client wishes, or to provide a point of view. My recommendation from a media agency perspective would always be to include all three parties in such presentations. (It allows for a lively game of “good cop, bad cop”. It mitigates the embarrassment of media owners unexpectedly meekly folding at request made by a client.)
The Charter correctly underlines that “confidentiality is of paramount importance”. It requires that media owners will not divulge clients’ information to third parties and that agencies will not share proposals or negotiated discounts with other media owners. Given the development of “trading” in recent years, the second injunction may present a challenge to the media agencies. The solution is to talk about “discount bands” and make broad references to competitors rather than to disclose the minutiae of deals.
There are some requirements, which may sound a bit pedantic, such as asking media owners to keep detailed records of acceptances to functions as well as actual attendances. I am not sure that agency management has the time for such policing, but there is not another way to deal with habitual offenders. The ball is very much in the media owners’ court on that one.
The Guidelines for Media Owners: Incentive Schemes correctly disallows “conditional” competitions and trade gifts – in other words, all competitions and gifts must be open to all relevant personnel, and not subject to the booking of an advertisement or package. They also insist that cash back or value added should benefit the particular client, and not the planner. Once again, the rise of “trading” requires that more consideration be given to this issue. There can be little argument with the statement that neither Client nor agency planner/buyer should benefit personally as the result of a media placement.
As I mentioned previously, the international media agency networks already all have detailed guidelines covering acceptance of gifts and trips. A discussion of these by the AMF members could yield a more up to date view on this matter.
In essence, however, the bulk of the thinking has been done. All that is required is some updating and then the Charter and Guidelines could be adopted and promoted by the AMF.
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