`Things have got to change’

As the heaviest portion of the fall television buying season is winding up, Strategy approached Steve Jones, national director of sales for the cbc to discuss the changing environment from the perspective of a media seller.With so much talk these days...

As the heaviest portion of the fall television buying season is winding up, Strategy approached Steve Jones, national director of sales for the cbc to discuss the changing environment from the perspective of a media seller.

With so much talk these days about fragmentation of the media marketplace, and with more dramatic changes looming on the immediate horizon in the form of multi-channel Death Stars and the impending convergence of electronic media, we asked Jones to talk about what he would like to see happen in the next few years.

Looking ahead, say five years from now, it would be my hope that, in general, the value of tv would be re-established, and, in particular, advertisers would be buying the right product that really has value for them.

‘Television is like a bunch of radio stations. Instead of having loyal listeners who tune in to radio formats, tv has loyal viewers who tune in to certain programs. Selling television often ends up as an exercise not unlike trying to sell 25 radio stations.

Nuance

‘I’m not sure that advertisers fully understand that nuance. Of course they acknowledge that there is a loyalty to programs, but I don’t think they’ve really worked it out in their minds.

‘I think it’s time to drive that message home to the advertisers, and that means taking some of the control of the television medium away from the ad agencies. It means dealing with the customer, the person who’s always right, instead of the middle man, the one who’s interpreting the needs and wishes of the customer.

‘On the broadcaster’s side, we need to have a sophisticated inventory management system in place, based on qualitative values rather than just grps.

‘Our reps, in turn, will have to learn how to sell qualitatively, and that means looking at things from different angles.

Can do better immediately

‘Qualitative data doesn’t always have to be numbers. We need better numbers, there’s no question. But we are at such a low level of qualitative selling right now, there are many ways in which we can do that better immediately. Take Stanley Cup hockey for example.

‘This past spring it did 3.5 million. I wonder how many of the advertisers know how many women were watching. I wonder if they realize that there’s a different environment in a playoff than a regular game. I wonder if they recognize the different psyche of the viewer.

‘I agree we need better data. But even without better data we could certainly use a more open mind.

‘The problem is, agencies are so research-oriented that they’ve lost their creativity, their horse sense. Sometimes you’ve got to go with what feels right. I call it the sleep test. If I do something one day and I go home and I can’t sleep, I undo it the next day.

‘Eventually we will have better data, it’s inevitable. In the meantime, we could go a long way and do a lot better for our product by using horse sense. Why would you want to buy something that you know won’t work for you?

‘We would like to be talking to the planners more than we are, and while the planning cycle’s going on we would like to talk to the advertisers as well. We almost never get to talk to the advertisers and we rarely get to talk to the planners, at least not in a sophisticated way. Mostly we deal with buyers in a clerical manner.

‘For the buyer it’s a matter of: `These are the rules, these are my markets. Don’t tell me about any different markets. I don’t want to know. These are the number of grps I’m going to buy in each market. I don’t want to buy more than that. Unless it’s free. I’m going to spend this much money, or less, buying these rating points. The bbm said it did a four rating so it’s a four. And I have to get this done quickly so don’t make the process complicated.’

‘Sometimes I think media buyers were better when there were no surveys. Maybe media buyers were better when they did things by the seat of their pants because maybe they were thinking more.

‘I’m saying that the agency business needs to improve the time and the resources that it puts into media departments so that they [media people] can be more cerebral about what they do.

‘So the agency needs to be properly funded. The advertisers need to be paying them what it takes to get the job done rather than nickle-and-diming them all the time.

‘`I got the agency down to 5% commission, isn’t that great?’ Well it isn’t great because the agency’s going to cut the service to you, the advertiser and it’s going to end up hurting me, the media, because the agency doesn’t have the time to deal with these qualitative issues. They’re just going to get the piece of paper out of the way because they’re only being paid 5%.

‘Let’s talk about the economics. To do that, you’ve got to get back to the advertiser’s original objective. Sell product. If by investing more time and money in the buy, and, as a result, the advertiser actually sells more product, then the time spent really was a good investment.

‘If the objective is to run media departments as accounting departments, then there’s no need to change anything. If they are to be run as entrepreneurial operations where people actually take risks and reap the rewards from those risks, then things have got to change.

‘People have to be brought in to replace formulas. Right now there are routines. But routine precludes any kind of creativity, any kind of moving forward. Routine allows you to stay where you are. That’s got to change. Somehow that’s got to break. Someone has got to say, `Screw it. I’m going to take next month’s income and spend it this month so I can try and break the system.’ Somebody’s got to break it.

‘If the media is to be able to deal with the advertiser, the advertiser has to have less fascination with the creative. The advertiser has got to want to go to the media meetings and ask intelligent questions, not just sit there and hope it’s over soon.

‘There has to be a direct line of communication between the broadcaster and the advertiser. There has to be a conversation that helps us establish what the advertisers’ needs are. Right now, we’re not finding out about those needs because the agencies don’t want us to call on advertisers.

‘The fundamental problem at the moment is that the agencies are doing the agency’s job first and not the advertiser’s job first.

‘Here we are, trying to provide the best service we can to an advertiser, but we’re caught having to deal with a middle man, who interprets the advertiser’s objectives for starters, then flavors them a little to meet the agency’s objectives.

‘We are trying to figure out what it is we’re doing wrong, and we can’t get to the advertiser to ask even the most basic questions. If we do see the advertiser directly, the agency threatens to reduce other spending.

‘When the advertiser says, `Gee how come none of the people from the media comes to see me?,’ the agency says, `Because they don’t know enough to come and service their clients properly. Aren’t you glad you have us?’

‘We’ve got to break that. There’s the problem, straight up.

‘I understand the problem, and I’m starting out with a blank sheet of paper, basically. If you’re a rep, what is your plan of attack? What are you going to do to effect change? How are you going to talk to the client, talk about this qualitative thing? The very first thing you’re going to do is go and talk to the client to figure out what the client really wants.

‘Not to phone up and say, `Look I’ve got something I want to show you.’ But, `Look, I’m out here trying to figure out what you want first, then I’m going to come back and show you something I can give you. Why should I waste your time trying to tell you what your business is all about?

‘I’m here to collect information, and I’ll come back later, maybe with some other people, with some experts who can help you out.’

‘To help me get there, we [at cbc] have a new commission plan. We are paying [reps] based on volume, which we always did, but, also, part of the plan now is based on activities that don’t necessarily result in the close of the sale. Reps get paid for going out to see the advertiser, figuring out what the client is all about, getting some history. It’s hard to evaluate. We spent at least a week boiling everything down to a fundamental and then trying to build it back.

‘In the long run, I think this will lead to having some advertisers spending either less money to get the same results, or the same money for more results. Either way, we’re going to sell more inventory because there’s a lot more action out there than cbc gets.

‘Our effective rate is going to go up. We won’t be dumping inventory on an advertiser that’s inappropriate. We’re going to take smaller shares of some budgets. But it means we’ll have inventory left over that we could get more for from somewhere else. That’s why one of the key issues here is for broadcasters to improve their inventory control.

‘We’re in a terrific position at the cbc because we have a product that is unique. The programming doesn’t always get the highest ratings, but that’s ok because it’s unique.

‘The fact that we can co-ordinate the sales of Network, Metronet, four regional networks, Newsworld and 16 owned and operated stations is unique. And when the zillion channels come down the pike – soon – we’ll still be unique. So in our uniqueness we have the opportunity to push this forward and thrive.’