Media should be far more than just a commodity

I once found myself in a Barcelona backstreet with three media buyers who wanted to buy Barca football shirts for their kids. The poor store holder had no idea what was about to hit him. From eyes lighting up as he thought he’d hit the jackpot, to rabbit-trapped-in-headlights in no more than 60 seconds.

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By  Tim Burrowes Published  October 23, 2005

Media should be far more than just a commodity|~||~||~|I once found myself in a Barcelona backstreet with three media buyers who wanted to buy Barca football shirts for their kids. The poor store holder had no idea what was about to hit him. From eyes lighting up as he thought he’d hit the jackpot, to rabbit-trapped-in-headlights in no more than 60 seconds. These three natural born negotiators were ready to haggle for sport. I swear at one point they started arguing for a volume rebate. And with face to lose to each other, they were all the more ruthless over every cent they could get off the price. I’m sure the poor chap sold those shirts for a lower price than he ever had before — he certainly had a somewhat shellshocked stare as we walked away with carrier bags stuffed with shirts — and the free pendants he’d been persuaded to throw in. I can’t quite remember — I think they may have taken the shirt off his back too. And that’s why, if being a salesman is a hard job, being a media salesman is possibly the worst job in the world. You have to sell to these people. I’m glad that I don’t have to do it. Selling media is particularly tough. You need to combine so many roles — account handler, diplomat, administrator, enforcer, coordinator, fire-fighter, ambassador, bluffer, negotiator and, ultimately of course, salesman. And all to people who may know as much or more about your product as you do. To avoid swelling heads or otherwise, let’s just stress that I’m talking strictly past tense with other titles here, but as a journo you sometimes get to see your colleagues in action. From rude junior agency staff (it always seems to be the junior ones) to pleas that the year’s budget has gone (yeah, right) to demands for impossible discounts on rate card (well, virtually impossible), those poor sales guys earn every penny of those giant commissions of theirs. No wonder then, as we report in our feature this week, some media owners are handing their pages to third party sales houses to farm out. Although, actually, the main reason does not seem to be so much to save the sanity of their staff, as pure pragmatism. With a vast region and a fragmented media, how else can you possibly cover the ground? The downside of course is that this tends to turn media into nothing more than a commodity. It’s hard to put a premium on your beautifully crafted content and delicately honed audience if you’re being lumped in with a whole bunch of other media properties. And then comes the issue raised by Future TV’s Tarek Ayntrazi — the Choueiri Group. This is the sales house that has a huge chunk of the market — particularly in television. The sort of clout this brings is enough to tell agencies and even advertisers what to do, and have a definitive influence on the debates that rage over issues like the creation of a credible media currency. Critics warn that at its extreme this can lead to advertisers simply losing faith in the market as a whole and investing elsewhere. Who’d be a competitor to that? Before I started writing about this sort of thing, the art of media planning was a mystery to me. I’d just about grasped that somebody made the advertisements, but media agencies were a revelation. Like most of the public, I’d just assumed the adverts somehow magically ended up in the right places. Which is all a roundabout way of justifying why I’m going back to the same subject as last week. I’m trying to apply a bit of a frequency model, you see. So forgive me for seeming repetitive, but there are now just 45 days left to enter the Campaign Awards. If you missed last week’s entry form, we’ll be inserting it again in next week’s edition. No doubt I’ll be reminding you then too — it’s all about frequency, apparently.||**||

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