Having worked in a media agency for over 25 years I have had the pleasure of working with many clients and dealing with many media owners. Needless to say, the dynamic that exists can be very challenging, but it is never dull.
There has been an age-old debate in advertising circles as to who actually ‘owns’ the client relationship. If you ask most agencies, they would unequivocally raise their hands and say “We do”!
But I don’t believe that is necessarily the case.
Sure, agencies are the ones that have to pitch for business, are awarded the account, have the day to day relationship with the client, and are ultimately responsible for ensuring that they get the best return on their media spend – but does that mean that we can lay claim to the client? Like they are some kind of asset that we control?
Rumours abound of agency groups in ad land who believe they are the sole gatekeepers to their clients. That nobody gets to see or talk to their client unless they okay it. Some clients like it this way, and if so, fair enough. However – again it’s just rumours – many of them, these same agencies that won’t let the media owners see their clients, don’t want to see or talk to the media owners either.
This presents a conundrum…how do you decide what your client should and shouldn’t be exposed to, if you yourself don’t take the time to fully understand what is out there?
On the other side of the coin, some media owners believe they have every right to call up a client and to try and sell them all kinds of proposals directly – without ever actually understanding the client’s business or objectives. Some of them do this because they have prior relationships with the marketing or brand managers and believe what they are selling is right for everything. Others are new to the game and are just trying to be proactive and make a living.
So, do agencies have the right to block media owners from their clients? Do media owners have the right to approach clients directly and cut out the agencies?
Just a little respect
The fact is there is no right or wrong answer. Some clients don’t want to deal directly with media owners and so they expect their agencies to play gatekeeper. Media owners are running a business, trying to make a buck and yes, actually, they do have every right to go direct.
But here’s the rub, whatever side of the argument you sit on, all anyone actually wants, whether agency or media owner, is a little respect. Our jobs are hard enough without having to deal with difficult people. The way I see it is that we all need each other. We don’t all know everything. If we work together, everyone wins.
Media owners just want the opportunity for their proposals to be heard, evaluated, and given a fair chance. If an agency is difficult and won’t give the media owners their time (which actually, when you get right down to it, is our job) then they cannot get upset when the media owner approaches their clients directly.
However, the respect should go both ways. To the media owner who thinks because he plays golf with the brand manager that he can just call him up and try to sell direct – all the agency wants is to be kept in the loop, to have the chance to objectively evaluate the proposal in line with the budgets and the objectives that the client is going to ultimately hold their agencies accountable for.
A wealth of knowledge
Agencies should realise that the media owners have actually known their clients a lot longer than they have, because media agencies come and go, but the client has been using the same media owners for years. So the media owner often has a wealth of client knowledge they’d be more than happy to share if the agency just asked.
At the same time, however, media owners must understand that the agencies have a job to do. They get to see the bigger picture. They know what the client is trying to achieve, what the client’s challenges are. The agency knows if what the media owner is selling is not right for the brand. They just want the chance to offer their input, and their expertise. That’s what they get paid for.
If we all work together, we all win. If the media owner respects and works with the agency, they are less likely to be rejected or dismissed. If the agency respects the media owner and can take a kick-ass solution to their client, the client is going to make money. And if the client makes money, he is going to spend more with the agency, and the agency in turn will spend more with the media owner.
It’s a win, win, win all round.
So agencies – stop acting like the Godfather. The media owners are just trying to do their jobs. We can’t do our jobs properly without them.
To the media owners – work with us. We know what our clients want. Don’t break the trust by trying to circumvent us. We wield a lot of power. Even the best media solution can have holes poked in it if you irritate the wrong person.
Let’s all just be lekker to each other, work together, win together. This job is hard enough as it is!
Richard Lord is media and operations director at Meta Media. He has 20+ years experience in advertising media strategy, planning and implementation. Meta Media is South Africa’s newest media agency, and part of the IPG network.
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