Say it slowly. Repeat it a couple of times. “Technology means nothing. Technology means nothing.”
It’s heresy to say that in our business, right? But the truth of the matter is that when it comes to some aspects of media operations it is the process that means everything. Without a well-defined process, technology means nothing. In this column, I’ll spend some time specifically talking about contract management systems and how the mantra above applies to this function -- a function that is attaining more importance in how established companies conduct media operations in the online world.
For the purposes of clarity, a contract management system enables online publishers to create a central database of booked insertion orders. In the best of all possible worlds this data is correct to the hour, includes all revisions and changes, and provides a real time answer to the simple question “how much revenue do we have booked through x date?”
There are two major events that are driving the consideration of contract management systems. First, the online media business is good. In fact, it is very good. The frequency and complexity of online orders is increasing. Overall media budgets are beginning to shift to online and even a slight shift is enough to create record sales quarters. In this environment, keeping track of booked revenue complete with multiple revisions during the course of a multitude of campaigns can be staggering.
The second event that is driving consideration for this media ops function is the bill called Sarbanes Oxley (SOX). This is the federal law that requires public companies to document their internal controls and processes designed to accurately report revenue -- and companies and executives are now bound by it. So, if you tell your CFO that you know an online order is worth $55,123.25 because you kept the 10 emails that Joe in sales sent you --don’t be surprised if the color drains from his face. That’s not a disciplined process.
In reality, how many media operations groups have a contract database that can easily give immediate, clear insight on the contracts that are “booked” even before they get entered or pushed into an ad server for delivery? How many publishers still process the insertion orders they receive from sales using a series of free-form emails? How many keep track of insertion orders with a manually maintained spreadsheet? Finally, how many companies have actually adopted a contract management system only to wonder why it doesn’t do all that was expected. Come on -- raise your hands -- I know you’re out there.
So, fine. Technology means nothing. Contract management systems are important. But those systems ARE technology. So, what’s the deal?
The “rub” as Shakespeare would say, is that these applications impose a rigid process on sales and operations groups. That’s right, it is a rigid, disciplined and imposed process. There is no sugar coating this. It can easily change the dynamics of your company from a free-spirited start up to that of a disciplined corporate entity. It is incredibly important that the adoption of contract management systems and the associated process be communicated and supported at the highest executive level of your company -- and that the expectations on how process will change be set up front.
Let’s think about how the process changes. First, forget about communicating that an order has been sold through a series of free form emails. Every element of the contract will be entered into a standard (!) contract form. The form itself imposes discipline. It can’t be completed unless even mundane client information is included such as address, phone number. Each line item needs to be described in detail. Revisions need to be re-entered in the standard contract form. No more ad hoc visits from sales to their favorite ad operations contact asking them to book another 100,000 impressions directly in the ad server as a favor. It needs to be input in the contract management system first -- and that may very well need the approval of their manager. Even when a contract is cancelled, that is a change that needs to be documented.
The adoption of a contract management system calls for a gatekeeper. Please, don’t ask a salesperson whose job it is to be on the street 99 percent of the time to be their own point person in entering contracts and any subsequent changes into this system. Don’t ask the ad trafficker who is trying to figure out how to fix a broken ad tag to be the policeman either. The process calls for an owner whose primary role is to make sure contracts are entered into the system and changed when called for.
If the process alters your business so significantly, why do it? Why? Because you need to know, accurately, what’s booked as revenue every minute of the day. The current business climate mandates this. You adopt it because, when it is finally operational, you’ll have real time data comparing booked to delivered revenue. You’ll have accurate up-to-the-minute stats on sales performance against quota. You’ll have better business intelligence on which segments of your online business yield the best return. Depending on the system you choose, inventory management may also improve dramatically.
None of the considerations above have anything to do with technology. It’s all about process. Make no mistake about it, you will be changing the way your company runs and the way divisions interact with one another. The more time you put into managing this change, setting expectations and describing the benefits, the better off you’ll be in terms of day-to-day operations.
Without the process in place, the leadership willing to communicate it and the people willing to follow it, the technology means nothing.
Doug Wintz began his interactive career with Prodigy in 1988. During that time, he pioneered the sales and development of online applications for automotive clients Toyota, Ford and Autobytel, brokerage firm DLJ Direct and grocers Dominick’s and D’Agostino. He led the development of one of the first online ad networks for Softbank, managed sales/operations for gamesite Uproar and recently served as VP of Digital Media Solutions for Lycos. Doug is currently founder and principle of DMW MediaWorks, a consultancy in interactive media and operations, with long-term clients that include the market leaders in online health, broadcast television, behavioral targeting and custom publishing.
Set the stage
Call and introduce yourself to the prospect. Demonstrate your excitement and enthusiasm for this opportunity. In a perfect world, you will already have established some level of relationship with the prospect. If not, set up a meeting. If procurement won't let you, work your connections and discover as much as you can. Collect any fact, insight, or opinion that can help set you apart on the big day. Build a map of how you think the decision will be made.
Bring the best cast
You are not pitching to a company but to people. Work hard to profile the decision makers. Make sure the casting of your team matches up with the prospect's expectations in terms of position, experience, age, gender, and personality. Find opportunities to enhance the relationship, by connecting before, during, and after the presentation. Work your network.
No one-man shows
You want the audience to connect to your agency, not just you. The more a leader speaks, the weaker that leader becomes. The leader should only open and close, in effect giving power to the rest of the team. This will showcase the team's abilities and enhance its power in the mind of the prospect. You want the prospects to connect emotionally with your staff and the agency. If you don't feel your team is capable, train them!
Never forget the magic of Hollywood. Great films are filled with suspense, emotional highs, lows, and a thrilling climax. It's vital to draw the prospects into your presentation and connect with them. Leave the facts and figures in the leave-behind. Each team member should have a clear role. Who will be the hero in the eyes of the prospect? The chorus to support and move the story forward? Who is the evil witch you must overcome? The hero's plucky sidekick? The catalyst? In the end you want the prospects to laugh out loud, get teary-eyed, and above all, stay engaged.
Few special effects
All agencies want to look high-tech, professional, and smooth, so they work hard to build beautiful slides and videos -- big special effects. These can help but should not be the focus of your presentation. Your people and the story must be the focus. It's impossible for your people to connect emotionally if everyone in the room is looking at a flickering light. Go low tech. Use props, boards, handouts, or actors if you must. We suggest you start with a short slideshow to introduce the firm, with three to five minutes on you and your case histories. Then bring the lights up and move into the "relationship/story" phase. This shift alone can be a powerful differentiator to separate you from all the other agencies in the hunt.
Every agency hates this. We hear it all the time. The old "I do much better when I'm fresh, spontaneous" excuse. Bull. Ask movie stars if they just "act" when the film is rolling with no preparation. They don't. They script it out and work hard to get into the role. Only after hours of working with the script do they feel free enough to even start rehearsing. Your presentation is a blockbuster and everyone must be on the same page. The difference is startling when viewed from the prospect's seat. Every agency hates this until they do it once. Then they never go back. It's that powerful.
A winning presentation is worth a full day's practice. Your team members should be fully up to speed with their role, scripts, props, and only then can you really start to rehearse. We suggest going offsite (a hotel close to the prospect is preferred) where you can set up a fake presentation room. Set it up exactly like the room you will be presenting in. (Call and ask if you're not sure what the room is like, and send someone over to measure it if you must.) Go through the whole presentation from moving into the room, to setting up, to the close and how you will exit. Practice each section. Do breakouts if you must. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Win in the Q&A
Most agencies think of the Q&A as secondary and leave it until the last minute. They feel it can't be controlled or they're already good enough. Wrong. We've seen winning presentations lose due to one fumbled answer. This is your chance to really connect with the prospect human to human. To help prepare, set up a team to generate tough questions and rehearse. Your team will really start to shine after a few rounds of being peppered with practice questions. Easy, tough, and just plain odd questions make for the best practice. Learn how to listen respectfully and attentively to every question, and always clarify the question before you start to answer. The leader should field each question, and then direct one person to answer. Never re-answer a question. It's one and done. Be confident.
Strike at your peak
Winning presentations is all about the team. And just like an award-winning cast, go in at your peak. After all the rehearsals, get a good night's sleep and go into the meeting hungry. Make sure everyone's outfit matches (not like band uniforms, but make them well-coordinated). Have a producer to make sure everything has been handled. Use production assistants and grips to take care of the small stuff. Your team should reflect energy back to whoever is narrating throughout each phase; never look down or appear bored. Understand your only job is to set the bar so high no other agency can come close. Shine.
You've done all this work, but don't forget that some people sit and wait through the rolling credits. Reward them by keeping the movie rolling, and provide a little extra at the end. The movie isn't over until you're past the prospect's curb. So many agencies finish up the presentation and relax. Bad move. Know how to close the presentation by leaving in a well organized, impressive way. While the grips pack up, your team should be relaxed, smiling, and chatting with any prospects that are still around (i.e., building chemistry). After a small sign from the leader, the whole team should thank the prospects, shake hands, and "parade" out. A bit of staged theater, but it works. It's good to see everyone laughing, some pats on the back, and a few pointed comments about how powerful it was, especially if there is another agency waiting in the halls. Anything you can do to take the wind out of their sails is just gravy.
Now you have the tools to connect on a human level throughout your presentation. But the job isn't over yet. Every agency knows to respond within 24 hours with a handwritten thank you note. (Right?) But you should be able to do a bit more. Be memorable. Pay attention to the prospect's reactions and questions, and find a way to reconnect your presentation story with a small gift. If no gifts are allowed, then make a more personal comment in your note. Stress the human-to-human connection you made in the presentation.
Every 12 or 15 months your agency will be face-to-face with a new business opportunity that, if won, has the power to redefine your agency because of the account's size, scope, industry, or reputation. When this happens, don't forget about the importance of making a powerful connection on an emotional level.
"Audience listening to presentation at conference" image via Shutterstock.