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Relics Part 2--BLUR

In a meeting earlier this week a client was discussing what classes of trade they have distribution in and I mentioned that there’s no longer such a thing as a class of trade. For those of you under the age of thirty, product distribution used to be contained to what we called grocery stores, drug stores or mass merchandisers. Today, these types of stores are one and the same. Food products were sold primarily in grocery, health products were sold primarily in drug and household staples, mostly dry goods, were sold in discount stores. Today, Wal-Mart makes up about 40% of all product sales in almost every product category. Drug stores sell milk and grocery stores sell prescription drugs. The concept of selling through a single class of trade no longer exists. Why? Because consumers want convenience. Whether it’s a quick stop into a convenience store for coffee and breakfast while they’re gassing up or to have one destination for their once-a-week major shopping trip (if that even exists anymore). They don’t want to go to a drug store for their prescriptions, a food store for their groceries and a discount store for paper goods. I call this blur. Blur refers to the blurring of the lines of delineation that historically existed to differentiate different “channels”. Blur is not only a retail channel phenomenon; it is a reality in the marketing world as well. Today, everything is everything. In my Integrated Marketing class I refer to video and audio as communication techniques, I hate to call them TV and radio. Why? Because TV and Radio are terms that reflect an archaic distribution AND consumption system that no longer dominates. Most of the students in my class don’t listen to traditional radio, but they are exposed to a lot of audio content. The same is true in video.

Even within traditional media concepts like dayparts in TV are blurred. Many cable networks air the same programs in daytime that they do in Prime. Many people DVR whatever they want and time-shift the viewing to their convenience, yet we still plan TV based on old reach curves and buy daypart ratings numbers.

Last year I recall speaking with a client who considered Social Media PR and not advertising. We said it’s neither and it’s both. The line between PR and advertising has blurred dramatically. Is Content Marketing advertising or PR? Is Native advertising or PR? The answer lies in redefining what we do not as advertising or PR but as marketing. And if it’s smart to do PR and advertising for your brand it doesn’t really matter if there’s a line. It only matters that it gets done right. But doing it together, in an integrated manner, where paid promotion of Tweets/Posts and DJ endorsements and product integrations and content all magnify the messaging to a brand’s business advantage.

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Relics

The media world is changing more rapidly than the tools and metrics we use to plan, buy and evaluate our efforts. I’m now teaching a media course at NYU for graduate students and as I’m preparing materials for the class I realize how out of date some concepts are that are still widely used in the industry. First up, the Designated Market Area. This is a Nielsen definition to divide the country into mutually exclusive territories based on where the preponderance of over-the-air viewing comes from. Ad supported cable has a higher share of viewing than broadcast, upwards of 70% of the ratings generated are from cable programs. If cable is the dominant medium from time spent and ratings why isn’t the default geography based on cable geographies?

With the technology we have today and the software we use to analyze data, what is wrong with breaking down a brand’s performance on a county-by-county basis? Micro-planning can be done and programs can be executed locally this way.

Think of the changes this would create for franchise or dealership businesses. Currently they organize based on DMA’s for coordinated promotions and media efforts. They can still operate along these lines, but does it mean they have to ALWAYS buy media across the entire DMA? Or in areas like NY where urban and suburban business characteristics are so different why can’t there be a NY five-borough group and a NY suburban area group?

Next, planning TV by daypart. Why do you need to have a certain number of GRP’s in each daypart you want to buy? If there’s one or two programs in a time period that your target watches why should an artificial parameter force you to buy more or less? I know TV buyers would have a fit if they were told to buy only one program in daytime or late night. This is most problematic in network buying departments where certain buyers specialize in only one daypart.

As more and more TV viewing is time-shifted we’re fooling ourselves if we think there’s a minimum threshold of ratings to buy in a given daypart. People watch TV programs, not dayparts and they watch when they want. Taking the shackles off daypart based planning and buying will enable clients to get more value out of their TV investments.

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Buyer's Remorse

A new CEO comes in, ousts the CMO and VP of Marketing and tells his smaller media agency that he won’t renew their contract because he has a larger media shop he’s worked with and believes their BS about bigger agencies always buying better than small ones. This happened to us recently. When the CEO’s preferred media agency submitted a ridiculously high compensation proposal suddenly we’re back in the mix. Our fee proposal was very fair. We even offered the client a better deal. We get an opportunity to pitch ourselves to the new CEO who, for the previous two months, wouldn’t even acknowledge our existence.

We have a great meeting. We explain the fallacy in believing that larger agencies “always” get better pricing. We tell him you get best pricing (and overall work) from people who care about their work and have time to do a great job for you. They take the time to negotiate for value and continue to drive down costs if they can rather than stop when they reach the benchmark. Sometimes those people work at bigger agencies, but more often they work at smaller ones. He mutters on his way out “that was a great meeting”.

We have the support of the marketing team, the research team and the field marketing personnel who all lobby for us to be retained. The CEO asks us to submit pricing on a prototypical buy in 50 markets. We bought those markets the prior year so we used our actual achieved costs. The CEO hires his preferred media agency. We’re disappointed, as we should be. We felt we had a chance. We believed we won the CEO over. Then we felt used simply so he could get a better compensation deal from the agency he hired.

A month later one of the marketing managers calls us to ask how we got our media pricing because the new agency can’t meet those costs. Why weren’t they asked to submit pricing on the same prototypical media buy that we were asked to? The CEO could have hired the better agency if he held them to the same standard throughout the process.

We get more calls asking us to meet with the new agency to tell them how we achieved the costs we got. We outright refuse and offer to handle the business instead. “Hire us and you’ll get those costs”.

Now the CEO has a recruiter calling one of our senior people to ask him to interview for the head of media position. Our guy says to the recruiter “If he respected me so much and wanted me working on his business why didn’t he hire my agency?”

He wanted a larger media agency. He got one. Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

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Questionable Priorities

Yesterday it was announced that Group M is cutting deals with TV vendors to use C7 ratings instead of C3. For the uninitiated, this refers to Nielsen ratings guarantees for commercial ratings that includes live viewing and played back within seven days (C7) or three days (C3) from DVRs. Back in 2007 when C3 ratings were first served up Group M quickly forced this new measure into their upfront deals before the industry was ready. There wasn’t much enthusiasm from other agencies at the time and most researchers felt it was premature but Group M’s Rino Scanzoni plowed ahead and C3 became the new currency. I think part of the rationale was that in most cases C3 ratings were fairly similar to Live program (not commercial) ratings—which were the norm to that point. Making the shift from Live to C3 meant no real change in economics for the vendors and an easier transition for the agency. I remember when peoplemeters were introduced to replace the old diary method. Many TV programs’ ratings took nosedives due to passive measurement. One of the challenges for agencies then was year-to-year comparison of different methodologies AND explaining to their clients why the ‘old’ numbers were so far off from reality, thus questioning the recommendations made by the agency. By using a measure (C3) that was similar, by happenstance, to the old measurement (Live) in 2007 the agencies avoided this controversy. Could that have been the reason C3 was forced on the industry?

Now with Group M pushing for C7 I am questioning why and for the benefit of whom? Obviously TV vendors are the biggest beneficiaries because they can monetize four more days of commercial playback. But why is an agency pushing a methodology that could harm their clients financially? Whose priorities are they concerning themselves with? Certainly not a client with time sensitive campaigns. What value is there in an ad promoting a sale that is over within the 7 day window? Of course that was the case—but lesser so—with 3 day playback.

Group M has a self-serving interest in TV ratings being high. It validates the largest part of their business model. It perpetuates their existence, as it does for all mega-media agencies with deeply entrenched TV buying units. But in doing this they may be in conflict with their client’s interests.

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