In March of this year I made the move from agency side back to publisher side. It’s been almost 5 months since then and time has flown. The role as Commercial Director at Sound Alliance is a rewarding one that everyday has posed new challenges, however I can safely say the publisher side in 2010 is a much harder, more brutal space than the publisher side was in 2006 when I left it.
Last Thursday at the IAB Awards I got to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen in a while, and a frequent question was ‘How are you finding the publisher side and how is it different to the agency side?’ Truth be told, it had been something I’d been thinking about so I thought, why not document this and place it on the blog.
I moved to publisher side as I felt the space needed something I could offer. Publisher side to me felt disconnected from the dilemmas and challenges of the marketer and was more aligned with a market than an agency – ie, publishers were all about buying and selling a commodity (impressions) to customers (agencies) and trying to get the highest amount possible. Very little attention, resource and insight was paid to the end result – ie, the challenges of the marketer.
To me, this felt wrong. There’s more to selling adspace than using the words ‘solutions’ and ‘beyond the browser’ … actions, not words, should be what allow a media business to succeed. So why not put it to the test? Move the wife and dogs to Sydney and see what happens.
So 5 months later what have I seen?
1/ The publisher has a responsibility to agency and advertiser – one I think is often taken lightly. A publisher should be upfront with their client around whether their numbers are independent, whether their numbers are audited, whether they are serving ads to international users, how many other ads are on a page and other related issues. Is this done, by some but definitely not all. I can’t imagine media buyers buying print/press/TV on claimed figures – they always revert to audited numbers … with online, this is definitely not the case.
2/ The audit and auto-refresh issue is getting lip service from both sides – publishers and agencies.. The publishers who are unaudited will not move unless someone forces their hand, the agencies claim to want audited numbers but continue to invest heavily in sites that are not subject to audit. It’s the same with clutter – an issue which is spoken about but very rarely actioned. The next few months will be interesting – there is a lot of talk from both sides that needs to turn to action. Sound Alliance is audited – it gives us no competitive advantage nor wins us any piece of business. This isn’t why we do it – but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating to be compared like for like with unaudited/unmeasured sites.
3/ The market is super competitive. I don’t envy digital planners and buyers as they literally have 100’s of potential suppliers approaching them and it would be impossible to have a thorough understanding of all. The large 5 have a significant advantage as they are becoming – through sheer scale – the default choice on campaigns. Each sub category (ie music, parenting, lifestyle, youth, movies) has room for 2 or 3 players max to co-exist with the large offerings. So … there’s 10/20/30 competitors in each category all competing for the same 2 or 3 spaces. Relationships often become the default differentiator.
4/ Agencies are trying very hard to integrate. Overall this is a positive thing – it gives digital internally greater visibility … but does it also create a culture of generalists that are simply ticking digital boxes? It can, and has … but there are also examples where it is working really well. When I was agency side I truly believed that you could create amazing cross media practitioners but it would take time and there would be a decent transition period. I like what agencies like Mediacom are doing, bringing in agitators which come in and challenge the agency. These agitators are really important. Digital needs a shake.
5/ The industry churn is alarming. I think since I joined Sound Alliance around 30 of our agency contacts have either left the industry or changed employers. In 5 months! What is causing this and what’s being done to change this? Why do mid level staff move so frequently?
6/ Brief lead times are getting shorter and shorter. Nicholas Gray, Sales Director at ninemsn, wrote a blog earlier this year commenting on how short the market was at that time. Right now it’s worse. I asked around our office and the average time to collate a response is around 36 to 48 hours. At least 80% of briefs fall into this time frame. Around 10% are 3 or so days. About 10% are 3 days or more. Here’s the thing – when I was agency side we had 3-5 weeks to respond to most briefs from a client. For me, this has been a significant challenge. Are clients really giving their agencies a couple of days to respond on large scale media investments?
7/ That said, some of the briefs we are seeing are super impressive. Great thinking and great ideas. It gives you the spark required to really explore a concept but always anchor it back to a marketing objective. There is generally an openness to coming back with a different approach.
8/ Sometimes you feel removed from the marketing/comms process. On the publisher side it seems odd to me that companies invest millions of dollars in media channels but in most instances they have no relationship with the media channels. Generally as a publisher the relationship is with the media buyer/planner … it is practically impossible to speak to clients or even generate contact to show them research/product/insights etc. A question I have is – has it always been this way? Pre digital – did magazines/press/TV have a similar disconnect?