While media outsourcing services are nothing new, several companies have gotten a great deal of traction over the past year. Given the very real issues that this surfaces, it makes sense to think about the space and how best to approach it.
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Let's start with the fact that the current process by which we move from media strategy to buying to reporting to optimization ranges from merely complex to completely overwhelming:
Information gathering: There's no easy way to identify the best media and marketing opps, especially as the market continues to fragment and new start-ups hit the ground running. Further, the seller marketing process is extremely disorganized, and a torrent of emails and phone calls arrive at every planner's desk weekly.
Determining planning costs is a central part of offline planning, but has always been more difficult in digital.
RFP processes and IO management are, for most agencies, manual. The time wasted in the manual processes is taken away from sellers who would want to provide more innovative proposals in their RFP responses. IOs are faxed, manually signed, and faxed back.
The foundation of every digital plan, search, is extremely difficult to execute and optimize without powerful automation tools.
Reporting and optimization once a program starts running are a sloppy stew of manual work. The planner is spending two days a week or so making manual reports.
In order for an agency to provide genuine value to its clients, it needs to offer superior knowledge of the category, the business, and the specific needs of the brand. Many media professionals have told me that offering this expertise on a consistent business can be particularly challenging.
The question we need to ask is, How can we do what we are actually paid to do -- be experts -- better? Using that goal as a starting point, let's examine some reasons why (or why not) specific types of outsourcing could be beneficial to our clients.
Much of the cumbersomeness of digital planning relates to the challenges of staying abreast of industry developments. There are two issues here:
There are now so many vendors and so many new platforms and technologies that staying abreast of industry developments is extremely time consuming.
Sellers are very anxious to communicate their offerings to buyers. The amount of phone and email contacts that are sent to every planner and buyer can be crippling to her productivity.
During the Agency Day of the Phoenix iMedia Summit in December, 2010, we asked attendees how they face these two challenges. A number of approaches were reviewed, including:
Establishing a company wiki that collects and organizes product and solutions information, and lets multiple participants add/edit the content.
Category experts are a very common strategy among the agencies assembled. In this model, an individual is assigned to keep abreast of developments within a specific digital sector -- like mobile, or video. This reduces the amount of new information individuals need to process, but some noted that a weak category expert leads to an agency weakness in a specific area.
Better managing the flow of solicitations and information sharing with sellers. Some agencies said that they had established weekly, biweekly, or monthly "pitch hours" that provide a finite time during which the team will hear pitches from sellers. Sellers agree to make brief presentations, and buyers agree to actually show up.
New tools like AdHatchery have sought to streamline the information sharing processes by replacing all of the cold calls and random email outreach with a platform that manages information sharing in a more logical manner. Requests for information are sent out via the platform, and answers are provided in the same manner. Ad Hatchery also automates many aspects of the RFP process to reduce the time and effort required.
Planning costs and streamlined negotiation
Traditional media have long relied on SQAD services to help them better understand the "going rate" for costs-per-point (CPPs) and costs-per-thousand (CPMs) of TV, Radio, and the like. About two years ago, SQAD launched WebCosts, which essentially averages the real prices being paid by participating agencies for display media on a large range of publishers. Agencies participate by giving SQAD visibility into their request for proposal (RFP) and server platforms. SQAD gathers the data, combines it with data from other agencies, and then reports average prices paid, as well as the low-to-high range for different kinds of units, targets, and the like by site.
Using SQAD, participating agencies report that they can drive:
Reduced proposal/budget preparation time
Better negotiations by providing a value baseline
Robust post-buy pricing analysis based on like transactions
While some sellers don't like the idea of that much information sharing, say that the availability of the data has eliminated wasted time bickering over unrealistically low or high pricing expectations. This has meant that both buying and selling teams can focus on the program elements other than basic banners.