Meeting the media sales team – make it awesome, not awful

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

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Snapshot : Media agencies sometimes recommend you spend your media budget with a single media supplier to get a better deal. This leads to media sales teams from different media suppliers pitching for your budget. Learn from our experiences what happens in this meeting, and how to get the most out of it for your business.

Marketing people like to talk about advertising. We’re no exception. In past articles, we’ve covered the sales and profit impact of advertising, how to evaluate it with your agency and the seasonality of advertising for example. 

But advertising doesn’t work on its own.

It needs the complementary skill of media planning and buying to make sure it gets in front of your customers. Advertising without media buying is like Batman without Robin. Han Solo without Chewbacca. Together, advertising and media make for a strong marketing duo that help you achieve your business objectives.  

Advertising may get talked about more, but media buying, weird as it can be, is just as important. It’s the biggest spend in your marketing budget. It puts your message in front of customers. Done well, it connects you with customers in the right way, in the right place and at the right time.

(See our guide to media planning for more detail of how, where and when your target audience experiences your advertising).

A big part of doing media well is deciding which media channels to use. This decision is heavily influenced by the size of your media budget. 

Budget size influences media planning

With smaller media budgets, it’s likely you’ll lean more to digital media.

Technology means that media buying in these channels like search and social is highly automated.

You can book campaigns on the likes of Google and Facebook without ever speaking to anyone. 

But, with bigger media budgets, the decisions become more complex. In particular TV and print tend to be more complicated than digital media.

Person holding 6 hundred dollar bills in front of them which have been set alight

Those channels usually involve face to face conversations between the media agency and the media supplier. This means your media agency will normally already have an ongoing relationship with the media suppliers. 

As part of that relationship, media sales teams at the media suppliers will often propose exclusive packages for clients of the media agencies. These packages offer extra value like better discounts on media rates, in return for committing to specific levels of spend with that supplier. 

When do you meet the media sales team?

This decision to meet with media sales teams normally happens after you brief your media agency. This is the second step of the advertising development process, after you’ve set your objectives and budget.

The brief includes how much you want to spend on media. This can be an annual budgettypically used for well-established brands, or a campaign budgettypically used for marketing innovation new product launches or sales promotion advertising. 

Based on the brief, the media agency have two choices of how to respond. 

They can propose a “mix and match” package of media across multiple media suppliers. When this happens, it’s unlikely you’ll meet the media sales team. Your budget is spread across multiple suppliers.

But sometimes the media agency will propose you put all your media budget into a single media supplier. In this case, it’s usually because they believe you’ll get better  value by working with one supplier than spreading it across many suppliers. 

To maximise that value, the agency will normally ask several media suppliers to come in and pitch for your budget. The competitive pitch means you get even more value as the media sales teams will try to out-do each other.

The pitch happens 3 to 6 months ahead of the activity

This media sales team pitch meeting usually happens 3 to 6 months ahead of the advertising go live date. 

This might seem far in advance, but most media owner companies work on strict long-term timelines. 

There’s a lot of complexity to manage content and advertising schedules. Most advertising is locked in well in advance. This lock-in time can vary from channel to channel. Print media typically has the longest lead time, and digital the shortest lead time. 

Why do you meet them?

Because your agency already has a two-way connection with the media supplier, the media sales teams will often share with them upcoming opportunities for clients and details of new media data, systems and processes. 

When you as the client turn up with a large media budget, the agency often recommend creating a more three-way connection between you, the media agency and the media sales team of the supplier. 

This way you can explore more creative options, and carry out media activity that goes beyond standard media packages.

Stand out from the crowd with your media

Your aim is to stand out from the crowd with your media. Meeting directly with the media sales team helps you explore more creative ways to do this. 

For example, the media sales team may know of a hot new TV show in the pipeline that’d be a great fit with your advertising message. Or, they might have a specific press title or outdoor location where you could do a “special” or exclusive piece of advertising. 

These sorts of opportunities usually only come up with you talk directly with the media sales team.

Remember, selling advertising space is how the media suppliers make money. The media sales team exist to bring in advertising spend to fill their schedules. That money is what pays for all the shows and the content they provide, as well as driving their bottom line. 

When you have a big media budget to spend, you become very attractive to media sales teams. You can help them achieve their sales targets by bringing significant spend to their channels. That’s why they’ll go out of their way to win you over. 

How they do that can be awesome for you. But it can also be awful. 

Let’s look at why. 

Awesome media sales teams

As we’ve said previously, media planning and buying helps you connect with customers and achieve your business objectives. It’s no good having great advertising if no-one sees it. That’s what media planning and buying is for. 

So, if you meet a media sales team who can look at your business objectives and provide you with a proposal and plan that shows how they can help you deliver them, then that’s obviously awesome. 

Awesome media means your advertising message gets out to your target audience in the right way, in the right place and at the right time. It fuels your performance measures like awareness, consideration and trial and ultimately gets customers thinking about you more. 

Done well, your media will link to other parts of your promotional work within your marketing plan. It’ll connect with public relations and packaging for example. It’ll connect with your website and your e-Commerce activity. 

An awesome media sales team will help you deliver all these activities. 

Awful media sales teams

However, in our experience, awesome media sales teams seem to be the exception rather than the rule. We’ve sat through many pitch presentations from major media suppliers that were frankly awful. Ones that had us frustrated and pulling our hair out.

Why so?

Well, firstly, most media sales teams spend their time dealing with media agencies. They have much less knowledge of what clients want. 

This means the information they provide is often not tailored to your needs, more to how they normally talk to media agencies. 

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

At best, this often means you have to ask them to explain complicated technical jargon. But at worst, it makes them come across as arrogant and pushy salespeople who have their interests rather than your interests at heart. 

It may be a factor of experience and style. 

Media sales teams tend to attract younger and more extrovert types. They all seem to dress, talk and act in a similar way, that’s showy and lacking in real commercial and customer understanding. It’s not unusual to feel talked at in these meetings, rather than listened to. The most awful media sales teams have the whiff of the car salesman about them. 

And if it’s your media budget, and your business objectives, that’s not what you want.

So, how do you push the media sales team to be more awesome and less awful? 

Remember you’re the customer for media sales teams

When you meet media sales teams, it’s important to remember that for them, you’re the customer. 

In actual fact, in this meeting you’re playing two roles. One role as the representative of your customers to them, and another role as the customer for what the media sales team is selling. 

Represent your customers to them

One of the first things you should do to make this meeting with the media sales team awesome rather than awful is to make sure you help them understand your target customers.

If you’ve followed the advertising development process, you may already have a communication brief which outlines key details about the target customer.

It’s common to also include customer profiles to flesh out this description. Tell the media sales team who you want to see your advertising and challenge them to find those audiences for you. 

The advertising development process - a guide on how to advertise successfully

Media sales teams have access to a lot of data about their audiences. They can take information you provide about your target audience, and find the best match for that target within their media channels and programmes. 

Usually, the focus is on demographic segments (see our guide to segmentation for more on this) as these include variables that are easy to define and measure. They can track which channels and programmes tend to be favoured by gender, age and education level for example. They’ll develop media proposals that best match what you are looking for. 

However, the customer data in media planning can also go beyond simple demographics. Media sales teams can often offer occasion based insights, especially around time. For example, which time of day or day of the week has the highest impact for certain audiences.

They can also plan media against attitudinal variables. Companies like Kantar, who run the Target Group Index (TGI) panel and Roy Morgan work with media owners to match data on media consumption with insights from household panels. This can help you find the best media for specific attitudes or lifestyles.

Your role as the customer for the media sales team

The communication brief has another important job beyond bringing your customer to life. It’s also what helps define what you need and want from the media activity. 

You will have business, marketing and communication objectives which the media plan needs to help you achieve.

It’s the role of the media sales team to look at these objectives, as well as your budget and timings and show what they can do to help you deliver against those objectives.

The brand choice funnel - trust - aware - consider - trial - loyalty - repeat purchase

Most media activity focusses on awareness. It’s about maximising the number of relevant customers seeing your advertising in the right context. It’s often referred to as getting the most eyeballs for your advertising. 

This is broadly a numbers game, with the media sales teams proposal delivering reach (how many customers will see the advertising) and frequency (how often those customers will see the advertising).

In simple terms, the more customers who see your advertising and the more often they see it, the bigger the impact. 

This is usually where you call on the expert help of the media agency. They should be able to evaluate what the media sales team propose and help you understand if (a) it’ll meet your objectives and (b) you’re getting a good deal. 

They can also help you understand how to optimise the spend. There will be a point where more media spend will start to have diminishing returns. They should be able to help you find the most effective and efficient level of spend. 

You want to get the best return on your investment. That’s what should give you the wow factor that’ll help you decide which pitch to go for. 

Unfortunately, it’s not the only way that media sales teams try to wow you.

The ones that try to wow you with style

Media planning and buying is big business. Companies spend far more with media companies than with advertising agencies. That spend is what fuels the TV shows we watch, the magazines we read and the websites we visit. 

But pause a second and just think about what media sales teams are actually selling. They’re selling media space in and around the content their channels provide – the TV and radio shows, the websites, the print and press titles and all the outdoor locations they own. 

That means they have access to great content experts. They know how to put on a show. And that applies to how they try to sell to you. 

So, typically, you’ll often see a show reel for all the big TV shows that will be coming out soon. These show reals are professionally produced and make the content look amazing. Of course they do. 

It can be exciting to have this inside view into what’s coming up before the general public even find out. 

But here’s the thing. The media owners content is not what will make your media work. If it’s good, it’ll bring in bigger audiences and you’ll get more reach. But for customers, they see the media owners content and your advertising and media as two separate and distinct things. 

Plus, you generally find that every media owner has a good raft of content. Sure, there will be some variances in ratings, but they’re normally quite stable and predictable over time. That means the style approach isn’t really what you should use to make your decision about which media supplier to go with.

The ones that try to wow you with social connections

As we already said, media sales teams tend to be a younger and extrovert bunch. They’ll often try to make the connection more social and personal to you to help persuade you to choose them. 

So, you’ll find that they will tend to treat you almost like a celebrity VIP, where you get invites to exclusive events and activities as part of the deal.

This might be for you specifically, or for your business in general. These invites might be professional – e.g. an invite to an exclusive presentation – or more fun – e.g. tickets to major sporting or music events.

This sort of social glad-handing goes on a lot, though not quite as much as it used to. In bigger organisations, it can often be seen as ethically questionable. 

You should be making your decision based on what’s best for your business objectives, and not based on the nice incentive you can get out of it.

And here’s the thing that makes it easy to pass on those who try to wow you with style or social connections. All media sales teams can do this. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. 

More modern and professional media sales teams recognise that it’s the commercial return on the media investment that matters. So really, you want to look for the teams that want to wow you with business results.

Wow you with business results

While the style and social aspects of meeting media sales teams can be a lot of fun, they count for little in the long-run. Much more important and where you should focus is on the business results. 

The best media sales teams will take your brief and customer insights and bring to life how their channels best meet the needs of those customers. 

So what should you be looking out for? 

Awesome media sales teams provide clear data that shows how many customers you’ll reach and how often they’ll see your advertising. They’ll provide benchmarks of what other comparable media activity has done for other businesses, and set goals and measures to help you track performance. 

The best media sales teams commit to minimum levels of audience delivery. If they fail to reach those levels, they make up the difference. 

They’ll try to understand your business and pitch the most optimised opportunity for your business. If you get the feeling they are over-promising what they can do, or are offering you something generic, let them know. 

Remember, there’s always other places to go buy media space. That means you have the power, not them.

You have the power, not them 

Because here’s the number one thing to remember when it comes to media sales teams. 

They need you more than you need them. 

No media owner has a monopoly on media. You can always find other ways to achieve your media objectives if for some reason you don’t connect with specific media sales teams. 

Also, consider that what they sell has a limited shelf life. Like hotel rooms and airline seats, if they don’t sell the space, it goes to waste. 

That puts you in a strong negotiating position with them. Be clear on your target audience and business objectives, and push hard to get the media sales team to explain what they can do for you.

Conclusion - media sales teams

The inspiration for this article was coming across some old notes we took during a series of media pitch presentations while working on a previous project. 

Three of the big Australia media channels came in and presented against a multi-million dollar brief we’d given them related to a new campaign for one of the brands we were working on.

All three channels tried to wow us with style. Two of the three channels also tried to wow us with social offers. We could have gone to multiple events and had a whole bunch of freebies.  

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

But the one we picked was the one that made the most business sense. The one we felt the most confident to deliver on our actual business needs. 

If you’re in that position, you need the mental discipline to see past the style and social elements, and remain focussed on the target audience and the business objective. 

That’s what’ll get you an awesome media plan. 

Check out our guide to media planning for more on this topic. And of course, feel free to contact us if you’d like some independent coaching and consulting on how to get the best out of working with media sales teams. 

Photo credits

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Money on fire : Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Confetti : Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

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