True partnerships are rare: Boot

Sunni BootBest Media DirectorSunni Boot is senior vice-president, managing director at Toronto-based Optimedia, the full-service media management division of fcb.She has grown up with the media business.What started out as a summer job at the agency Ronalds-Reynolds, has become a career...

Sunni Boot

Best Media Director

Sunni Boot is senior vice-president, managing director at Toronto-based Optimedia, the full-service media management division of fcb.

She has grown up with the media business.

What started out as a summer job at the agency Ronalds-Reynolds, has become a career devoted to the prominent positioning of the media product within the marketing and communications mix.

Boot has been involved in all phases of media, moving from buyer/planner to broadcast supervisor, to head of the media buying unit, handling all Toronto broadcast accounts.

In 1979, Boot was promoted to associate media director, and then to vice-president in 1980.

After the purchase of Ronalds-Reynolds by Foote Cone & Belding in 1987, Boot was named vice-president, director of media services, and, in April 1990, senior vice-president and national media director for the Canadian operation.

Boot’s crowning achievement was the formation of Optimedia in 1992 as an independent media management company handling more than $140 million in media planning, research and placement for clients such as a&p, Castrol, General Mills, Goodyear, Hasbro, Mazda, Molson, Nestle, S.C. Johnson and the TD Bank, among others.

We asked her to respond to a number of media-related questions, starting with the changing nature of the relationship between buyers and sellers.

Q. The term partnership is used a lot, but how much has the relationship between buyers and sellers really evolved?

A. I am saddened to say that the relationship between buyers and sellers has actually eroded in the past few years – a reflection, perhaps, of the hard times that our industry finds itself in, and a total misinterpretation of the word ‘partnership.’

In the past, when our businesses were thriving, partnership and relationship marketing was not a rallying cry by sales and marketing companies.

We felt little need to define [those terms,] have seminars on it and be judged on it – we just did it.

As media professionals, we formed relationships that benefitted our clients, and, at the same time, benefitted the publisher, broadcaster or out-of-home operator.

We were judged by our actions more than our words.

Our clients’ confidence in us permitted us to forge true partnerships; the kind of partnerships that both appreciated and recognized that:

a) value had to be mutual, and not exclusive to one participant;

b) both parties had to invest in the partnership, and be prepared to give as well as take;

c) confidentiality of the agreement was a key element;

d) the ability to act swiftly ahead of one’s competitors relied not on endless analysis to justify the contract, but on two critical areas; sound judgment based on experience, and solid relationships between buyer and seller to ensure that the contract was always on the track, and that the advertiser really did win big;

e) partnerships are long-term – not easily changed on the whim of the participants.

Everyone was stimulated by the process – it was a hell of a feeling knowing that, at the end of the day, we made a value-added contribution to the process and the bottom line.

Today, we have lost ground on those kinds of partnerships and relationships.

Unfortunately, rather than build on the solid foundation that we had, my sense is that we are becoming more adversarial.

Why is that?

Shrinking margins have a way of making management become more demanding, and, from what we are witnessing, there is paranoia and confusion everywhere – seller, planner, buyer and advertiser/client.

This has led to the entire process being re-examined, re-engineered, scrutinized to death.

Let me state that I believe it to be very important to re-examine constantly our process and to challenge ourselves to do better.

I feel equally strong that there be a solid mechanism in place for proof of performance – we are, after all, spending millions of dollars.

However, we must get back to becoming deal-makers – not deal-breakers – and match-makers between advertiser and media.

Inherent in doing this is the need to develop and maintain solid relationships with our media sales counterparts, so that if the need arises, we can structure a partnership that really serves our clients on a multidimensional scale.

Real partnerships of this kind have been, and continue to be, rare, and that is what makes them precious.

That is why true partnerships are long-term propositions. The best ‘deals’ stand the test of time.

Therefore, partnerships should be re-examined each year with an eye to maintaining and improving upon them.

I’ve been around long enough to know that everything is cyclical.

I believe that in the next two years, we will, fortunately, get back to relationships as practice, rather than desire, and that, in turn, that will lead to a resurgence of new partnerships.

It is already happening in other industries.

Q. How far along are we to acknowledging the full importance of the media function?

A. Acknowledgement of media’s importance varies by individual advertisers’ needs and their knowledge of what media brings to the process.

The importance of media as a business is well recognized by virtually every company.

Media is entertainment, and, therefore, an exciting business, there are considerable dollars to be made, and, therefore, it is big business.

The testament to the importance of media as a business is borne out by the number of companies vying for one another, the race for new communication technologies, and the attention media companies receive on Wall Street, Bay Street, and in the mainstream media.

This has definitely raised awareness among our clients and has forced us as media professionals to step back and take a more macro view of how we will be conducting media business.

Translating this dynamic industry into everyday tasks of planning the buying and selling of media is what will make media the area of choice in the next five years.

Q. How will the face of advertising change once the function and influence of media people in agencies have been fully realized?

A. This is difficult to answer in that fcb has already realized the function and influence of media people.

That is why, in 1992, we formed Optimedia, to operate as full-service media management company offering clients a range of services in both traditional and non-traditional media.

Q. If you had a chance to give one message to the rest of your agency, what would that be?

A. Hang in there – without you, we’re nothing.

Our collective challenge over the next five years is to make sure that we each set up processes and systems that will allow us to concentrate on the dynamic product, which we are privileged to work with, and how to maximize its potential.