It has long been the cry of media sellers everywhere that media planners and buyers never, ever call them back. Most of the time, those same planners and buyers don't even answer their phone. And when they do, they can be mean and nasty.
There was once an associate media director in San Francisco for a major online ad agency who was famous among the online sales community for never returning calls or answering her phone, and when she did, the particular rep who was calling ended up being sorry they did.
But the picking-up-the-phone and the calling-back need to go both ways.
My own team has frequently -- more frequently in the last couple of weeks – had great difficulty getting in touch with people at a number of technology and media providers. It hasn't been this hard to spend money with a media property since the end of the 1990s. Not just a few of the organizations we've reached out to have been the subject of consolidation in the last year, sometimes making it hard to know just who the right person within an organization is to reach about a particular need.
Regardless of how technologically driven and technologically dependant advertising gets, it is still primarily a perception business and a service business. In this era of flat communications with faceless emails, RFPs and instant messages, the phone call and the face-to-face meeting may seem quaint, but they can strengthen relationships and carry out more efficiently a conversation and a decision-making process.
The following are some useful points of guidance for both buyer and seller when it comes to using the phone or establishing intrapersonal communications.
Believe me when I say, "I know how busy you are." I've been involved in media buying for a long time, first in traditional, then for the last 12 years in online. But this is no excuse for not communicating live with your vendors, who, when you need them (read: client insists they are on the plan) are indispensable to you. Let the seller community know you really exist by trying some of the following:
- Answer your phone once a day. Regardless of who it is that's calling, just do it. And feel free to limit the call to five minutes or less. But just pick it up. Whoever it is on the other side will indicate that you do, indeed, exist, and that you are distinct from your brethren in the buying/planning side because you DO pick up your phone.
- Return a few calls at the end of the day, when you know people have gone home for the night. I love this one. Call from home, during the commercial break of your favorite TV show, or before you watch something you've recorded on your TiVo. Take three minutes and you can leave six voicemails. It shows the person you are calling that you have enough respect for them to return their call, but it sidesteps the chance of getting entrapped by a long pitch.
- Take an hour on Friday to return all (or most) of the calls you received that week. I keep a message log of every call I receive, writing down who called, what time, what date and their contact info if they left it. It's a handy tool for doing this (as well as a great way to CYA if someone claims later they never said what you said they said!).
What buyers and planners object to most is incessant calling. In particular, if they've never had contact with you before; the planner/buyer will become almost resentful of you if you keep calling. But you have to reach out to them. It is your job to do so. And, really, whether they like it or not, it is their job to have contact with you. Here are some ways you can lessen their pain… and yours:
- Call once every 21 days. That's right, once every three weeks. This is infrequent enough to not seem overly pesky, but frequent enough to catch most planning cycles. I've been telling reps to call me every 21 days for many years, since Michael Caruso, an erstwhile online sales guy and fellow co-founder of the now-defunct Society for Internet Advancement in San Francisco, told me this was a tactic he used. He also told me the following…
- It takes a minimum of four phone calls to finally "break through." This doesn't mean leave four messages. It means you call a minimum of four times. Leave a message the first time. Call three more times over the next week or two. The fifth call, leave another message. The buyer won't feel too pestered because they aren't necessarily going to know how often you are calling, but you are increasing your chances that one of them might just be practicing No. 1 above under "BUYERS."
- Know the client that is handled by whomever you are reaching out to. A blind and rambling message doesn't do much to get a planner to call back. The specific mention of a client improves your chances. And if a voicemail does work, follow up with an email with one or two ideas you might have for that specific client. After all, a client doesn't care where a good idea comes from, so long as they get it first. If the person at the agency you are calling thinks the same way, you're in luck.
I know the above may seem rudimentary to some, but there are a lot of new players of this game on both sides, and with everyone so busy working or being acquired, there isn't always time to teach the new kids the rules.
Media Strategies Editor Jim Meskauskas is vice president and director of online media for ICON International, Inc., an Omnicom Company. Read full bio.