How young media planners are like old VCs

free gift with purchaseMedia planners are, unfortunately, treated fairly badly at many agencies. To compensate for that, the agencies give them huge responsibilities. You can be a senior manager two years out of undergrad if you are a media planner. 8 years out of school, you could be managing a 20 person team and managing well in excess of $100 million in media spend.

When you put it that way, being a media planner sounds totally awesome!

Having said that, in many respects, media planners – fueled by the agency and advertiser relationship – struggle to be awesome for their clients.

And I don’t mean because of the jeans parties. Seriously, if you Google “jeans parties media planners“, the articles just jump out at you:

Things like happy hour cocktails and meeting up in different environments are really how you build relationships. For me, jeans and sunglasses are for teams I don’t even like. I would never take buyers I get along well with to a jeans party. The buyers that get something with a takeaway value are usually the ones that I have a hard time connecting with. That said, for the most part it makes me feel a little bit dirty, like I’m buying my clients. If I’m going to spend that money to build relationships I’d rather it be organic and fun, not cheap and dirty.

I doubt marketers really have any idea how many decisions are made with their budget based purely on a jeans party or a trip to the Hamptons.

The three-hour lunch of the past that greased the media-buying wheels has been replaced by tacky grabs for luxury goods as media sellers look to gain favor with 20-something media buyers.

Custom jeans and sneaker parties, spa days, shopping trips, dinners, golf, private parties, baseball and football games are just some of the favorites in the ad sellers’ arsenal. Yahoo, AOL and Undertone also entertain buyers throughout the summer at houses in the Hamptons, while others prefer to fly them out to ski resorts or music festivals further from the city.

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And that is just the jeans parties. I didn’t start Googling for Hamptons trips, but I bet Snapchat has some crazy, crazy stuff.

Now, if you asked these young media planners, hopefully they would say that they are hanging out with friends instead of being morally corrupted, but have no illusions: These business expenses have very clear justifications associated with them from the publisher side of the business. The CFO of Yahoo thinks that house in the Hamptons literally turns into cash. That is because he is told that they just bought you, young media planner.

But let’s be clear what the real tragedy is here. Digital media planning is harder than buying print. You have to follow the buy, there are discrepancies, you have to make mid-campaign changes, dynamic creatives, all of that stuff. Attribution is big. It is harder, yet agencies rarely get to charge more for it. Also, it is more complicated. Complicated targeting, complicated platforms, mediums, formats, social, attribution – all of these things are getting more complicated. And the market is growing so the vendors are growing. And they all want to meet with you. If 1,000 people want to meet with you every month, you can’t meet them all, drill down into their products, and suss the smoke from the mirrors. You just can’t. And these media planners aren’t technical. And the salespeople don’t even know either! How could they drill down if they wanted to?

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But media planning cost structures have stayed basically the same. Advertisers don’t want to pay more for digital media to be planned. They want to spend money on the buy. And we all get that. This is where agency kick-backs from networks and publishers come in, but I can’t even get into that.

So media planners have to pick a short list of people they should meet with – this is where the gift economy comes from. This is not unlike VCs – you need a referral!

People talk about how ad tech salespeople need to focus on benefits first – classic sales technique. But I am here to tell you that if you are lucky, you get 30 minutes once a month and you have to show them how you are different. And the problem is that everyone sells the same benefit and the media planners have to get to another emergency meeting, and you have to tell them what is different. You have to get to your USP instantly and it has to be compelling and amazing. It is so hard.

So the worst kind of media planners are not dissimilar from the worst kind of VCs: They think they know all about you one slide into your presentation and they have put you in a box. But it is your job to show them how you are different. I hope that doesn’t mean a trip to the Hamptons.

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