Agency Media Planners and Buyers are spread very thinly, with multiple assignments and significant financial responsibilities placed upon them every day. Steve Davis, President of SRDS and Kantar Media Health Research, and Jim Elliott, President of the James. G. Elliott Co., got together recently to do a study on the needs of media planners and buyers in terms of time, opportunities and money.
This was the second study the two companies had done between October, 2013 and January, 2015 and showed significant changes in some areas of the second study such as:
• The average respondent recommended or helped purchase $25.9 million in advertising over the past 12 months in 2015—up significantly from $19.4 million in 2013. However, this could be a reflection of more respondents from slightly larger companies. Big companies plan bigger ad budgets.
I spoke with Steve and Jim recently about the study’s purpose and the objectives they hoped to attain which include:
• To understand the habits of media planners and buyers.
• To learn about the types of clients and plans that media planners and buyers are working with.
• To determine the types of resources used for planning and buying.
• To understand what factors have an impact on media selection.
• To understand the media planning and buying information needs of media planners and buyers at agencies.
Their responses and the information uncovered may surprise you. So, I hope you enjoy this very informative discussion with two gentlemen who know their way around the roadmaps of publishing, both digitally and in print, and who have made it their priority to uncover comprehensive media solutions to problems faced in publishing today.
But first the sound-bites.
On the results of the second case study: We found many of the same conclusions as last time had been proven again; they are still very busy with an unchanged average of 4.3 clients, but the number of brands has increased to almost 6. The average media planner who had $19 million in media to be responsible for in 2013 is now up to about $25 million.
On any silver lining in the fact that media planners have at least $6 million more dollars to spend in today’s market: I wouldn’t take the additional responsibilities that the planners have as a sign that there’s more media budget. Those measures are done through media forecasting where we may be expecting 3% growth, certainly not what we just shared, from $19 million to $25 million.
On the roadmap Steve Davis would use to get a client more ad pages: Part of that is making sure your story is tight, focused, and integrated. I don’t think just a magazine alone is going to do it. But a focused story that planners can quickly understand and access (and that’s my plug for SRDS); you better tell it in the tools that they are using.
On how media companies today can use the study to reimagine print in this digital age: I think the industry is doing that, whether they’re doing it fast enough or not, I don’t know. This study isn’t going to give you that roadmap, but I think this study is designed specifically for when you are thinking about bets you have to make from a resourcing perspective.
On the second study’s addition of programmatic buying: Just to show you how quickly this has moved; 92% of the media planning and buying community are familiar at some level with programmatic; and, two-thirds are involved now in buying programmatically. We’re already starting to see that programmatic is starting to move and this is good news for print’s new publishers.
On what keeps Steve Davis up at night: It’s what I said earlier about are we reminding ourselves the basics as an industry and I’ll say that for the buyer and seller. Time is shorter to plan and buy and I wonder if our media planners and buyers are thinking about the basics. What are the client’s objectives as opposed to how could I buy this specific target audience most efficiently?
On what keeps Jim Elliott up at night: What keeps me up at night is how much longer are we going to let other industries define this industry, because it’s pretty ridiculous if you think about it. We should be proud of the industry and we should embrace it and work in it, not try to get out of the industry and be something we’re not.
And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Steve Davis and Jim Elliott…Samir Husni: You did the first study almost a year and a half ago. Can you give me the elevator pitch for study number two? What have you found out?
Steve Davis: If we remember a little bit back to the first study, we wanted to get a read on how compressed for time the media buyers and planners really were and how that compression made it that much more difficult for the ad salespeople to operate.
And we found many of the same conclusions as last time had been proven again; in fact, they’re busier in the sense that their budget or the size of the campaigns that they’re working on, has actually grown, so it went from the average media planner who had $19 million in media to be responsible for, to now up to about $25 million. With that additional responsibility, you’d think that it would come with a bit more time or resources to do their work, but in fact, that’s not the case.
It’s as compressed as ever and in some cases it’s more compressed. And their approach to spending that money; the window has shortened a little bit. They allow for less time to actually do measured planning, or planning that had the luxury of time.
And then when it comes to reaching out to speak to business teams at the magazine media companies and to all the media owners’ representatives, the time planners and buyers expect for turnaround is as quick as ever. Almost half (42%) expect for the sales team to respond to an RFP in less than 5 days.
What we’re also seeing is the continuation of this running theme, where most of the business is conducted at the planner’s request and timetable, not on the media owner’s request to come in for a consultative discussion. Well over 75% of our subscribers, the media planning users, are saying that RFPs are the primary way to initiate a buying decision. So, if I’m a magazine media company, how much is my sales team really working when they’re invited to present or how much of it is them chasing opportunities that they may see in the marketplace that may not be in time for?
On the other side of that, if you probe deeply enough, as a revenue executive, there should be an RFP on the other side of that. If there’s not, it may be a bit of fantasyland. That’s a little bit of what we’re seeing. It’s really becoming an RFP-type of driven business and the time given to respond has become very compressed.
Samir Husni: Do you see a silver lining in that the amount of money the media planners are dealing with now has increased by $6 million; is that a good thing that people are spending more? And why has it increased?
Steve Davis: I wouldn’t take the additional responsibilities that the planners have as a sign that there’s more media budget to spend. Those measures are done through media forecasting that goes on through companies like my own and others, where the expectation may be 3% growth, certainly not what we just shared, from $19 million to $25 million.
I think this really comes down to less people to spend pretty much the same pot of dollars that have been out there; it’s just more evidence that the market place is asking its workers to do more with less. And in some cases they are supplementing that spend through the programmatic means. We also delved into things on this study that we didn’t on the last, when it comes to the appetite from the marketplace on buying and understanding the inventory that’s available through programmatic means.
Samir Husni: What impact will your study have on major companies, such as Time Inc. or Hearst? And then, what impact for medium-sized companies like Harris?
Jim Elliott: I think the impact is in some sense the same, but done differently, based on whether you’re a mid-sized or a large publishing company. In either case, your sellers need to have air support, a lot of air support, meaning that you can’t expect them to do the whole job; they can’t. So you have to have collateral support, advertising support and you need to have point-of-purchase support like SRDS. Without those you’re in deep trouble.
The second thing that you need to have is a fair number of marketing people to do custom work for you. I think it’s becoming increasingly evident that you have to break through the noise in ad sales and show up with something that will get their attention.
One of the things that I want to point out is that when Steve and I talked about doing this about 18 months ago, we did it with a smaller sample size.The 2015 Study was done with double the sample size; this is really important. And we asked all the same questions plus some programmatic ones in addition. So, this now is by far, a projectable study. It is absolutely solid. What we said 18 months ago, I think, has been validated by the new study.
If you’re looking for a silver lining, there are one or two. One of them is that the amount of discounting expected has stabilized near 29%. What that might tell you is that people are kind of at the end here; there isn’t a whole lot more to go. In print, there is a finite number; you can’t go forever and continue to discount. You just can’t; it’s not possible.
Another silver lining is that this information, all taken together, confirms that the sales process has changed and it shows publishers who want more business some essential steps they must take to get it.
Samir Husni: How is that different than 10 years ago? You still have to go with the air power; you still have to deal with all the competition.
Steve Davis: But I think it’s different in that specifically we asked how frequently do you visit with the sales team after your primary schedule has been set. They are not spending time with the media sales reps like they used to. They’re spending time with them in that very early stage of the media planning process. About a third of them are open to new ideas, but you better have them based on the RFP guidelines, because if you don’t have it there, chances are you’re not getting back in.
Now, has that changed dramatically in the last 18 months? Probably not, but it really has changed over the past decade. If folks haven’t gotten that message they better get it. You have to make the assumption that your invitation to visit that account team is your only shot to get the deal. If you’re thinking that you can go in and have a discussion about what your strategies and objectives are, you may frustrate that buyer to the point of not getting the business.
Samir Husni: If the magazine industry hired you, Steve, and said: we want to hire you as a consultant; give me the roadmap. I have this magazine and it’s a monthly publication and it’s launching January 2016; what would you tell them to do in order to get ad pages?
Steve Davis: Is there a difference between whether you’re a small start-up or one of the larger guys? I think there is.
When you go back to the basics, you said it earlier; none of this seems new. And in some ways it’s not. But I’m not sure if the marketplace is sticking to the principles of basic, Publishing101 sound marketing and revenue strategies. Part of that is making sure your story is tight, focused, and integrated. I don’t think just a magazine alone is going to do it. But a focused story that planners can quickly understand and access, (and that’s my plug for SRDS); you better tell it in the tools that they are using. If it’s not SRDS, then it’s somewhere else in the market, but don’t expect folks to automatically find you. They may need to do a little digging to find it.
But when somebody discovers you, you have to provide them with not just a rich experience in print, but also through the other integrated channels. We specifically asked: what are the other value-ad or key additional features that make up an important integrated strategy? And I think the top three or four have not changed.
It includes the things that you’d expect, such as additional space and presence in the digital channels, including some of the key digital offerings, but what we added this year, and this is where I think it’ll be different for a small or big publisher, is specifically we asked how important is the programmatic inventory that you may want to avail yourself of?
The big publishers have made significant investments in the private marketplaces to get their exchange inventory to a higher level. They’ve had open-market inventory available, but they’re trying to bring it up to put the context of their editorial environment around it and as a result charged to hire a CPM firm. The reps realized, and I think most chief revenue officers now have realized, that shouldn’t just sit as a commodity left to the media planners’ interpretation alone on whether it’s good value or high value. The reps themselves need to bring that integrated offering into discussion with what your print presence ought to be. I think the big guys get that; I can’t promise you that everyone gets it.
If I’m one of the smaller guys, when I’m thinking about my go-to-market strategy, and I’m assuming that I have a print offering and a significant web offering, I would also make sure that I’m talking to the appropriate ad-tech partners who can take my inventory and give it the kind of elevation it should have. We would want to put it through the private marketplace exchanges, make it an automatic guaranteed buy, put the appropriate amount of curation around that inventory to make it valuable to the market and not just view it as remnant.Samir Husni: One thing I think we all will agree on, and I mentioned this in my Mr. Magazine™ Manifesto for 2015, that media companies today must become platform agnostic. However, our audience is not necessarily platform agnostic. How can media companies, using your study, segment that platform agnostically and target it to the specific audiences and the audience platforms that they’re after?
Jim Elliott: Can I go back to your broader question? You asked if we were consultants in the magazine industry; this will answer your broader question.
You have to go back in history; I’m a consumer market seller from big magazines before I started my company and we’ve worked with 300 magazines since we’ve been in business. There was a time when you could go in and spend 45 minutes with a media buyer, a media planner, media director, an associate media director, an account team. You, in essence, were selling and doing a little bit of marketing as well. Today, you can barely get one call per year. And in that call, you get about five to ten minutes.
If I were a consultant to the magazine industry I would say that publishers need to start going back to basics. It’s what I think you said earlier; basics mean that if you’re marketing a car, you market the car and then you get a selling group to sell the car. You don’t expect sellers to do one sales call at a time and also do marketing at the same time.
And we see this all the time in the magazine industry, where publishers simply hire three or four sellers in New York and say to their sellers, “go out and sell!” They don’t do any marketing or air cover. And when I say air cover; I’m talking about those marketing activities that prepare the buyers ahead of time. It’s too much to ask of sellers to create awareness with no support. The study showed that there are all kinds of things that go into the final buying decision. They go from my end-sellers, price, SRDS, optimization, syndicated audience data, audit statements and so on and so forth.
But you know the one thing that hits you if you read this carefully? It’s everything! There’s no single answer here. Except make sure you brush your teeth. Do the things that you should do that are obvious when selling something. And that’s marketing and all of the air support that you need to do.
Samir Husni: You’re telling me that when we had one platform, when we were only selling print, we had more time to discuss it and more time to meet with planners and talk.
Steve Davis: But they had less choice. Part of it was they had less choice and the one place that you knew you could achieve any of your reach and frequency goals was through the magazine media powerhouses. That’s not the case anymore.
That’s one of the reasons magazine media is diversifying their product portfolios as much as they are, so they can have the relative scale that they once had. But that’s their challenge right now. The planners know the magazine media story and they know everyone is different. I think they’re dangerously close to taking the view that: I already know you guys; if I’m going to spend time with media reps, I’d rather spend my time with guys I don’t know, like the new digital platforms, like the ad-targeted networks–the folks that my marketer clients are telling me I need to bone up on. I think that’s the challenge for magazine media; they think they know me, but they really don’t know me. And I have to do a better job of telling my story.
What I find is maybe it’s a simple solution, perhaps, but I think what magazine media is doing a great job of is in their consumer marketing. I think they do a terrific job telling the consumer about their brand portfolio. If I’m a Men’s Health subscriber through the print channel, I know quite a bit about their mobile strategy, their online strategy, and their event strategy, because I’m already engaged with that brand and I have an inclination to know about it.
I don’t think the consumer media do nearly as good a job telling that concise story to their client, to the media planner and the marketer. They’ve packaged it well; I just don’t know if they’ve told the story well. And that’s where I think there is a fundamental miss. I’ll give the MPA credit here for what they are trying to do with Magazine 360°. It’s the right attempt, but there are limitations to the sources of that. There are limitations to the amount of brands they’re reporting on.
But I think it’s the right approach; you just have to centralize your story in a way that makes sense to your end user.
Jim Elliott: At the Elliott Co., we really don’t care whether we’re selling print or digital; we just don’t care, because I can make money either way. But, that being said, I’m not invested in magazines as such; I’m just not. I’m invested in magazines because they work.
To go on the record, Samir, you and I are friends, but more than that, you have been one of the few consistent supporters of real magazines. Not just magazine media or magazine brands. Our advertising clients must think we’re crazy. We’re constantly talking about putting ourselves out of business. Every single conference you go to; let’s talk about digital; let’s talk about everything but the anchor of this industry, which is magazines.
I understand that digital is here and I understand that digital has a place, but I don’t think it’s a replacement for print, necessarily. Why aren’t we just standing up as an industry and taking the position of being proud of what we are?
You and I attended a conference two years ago, the DeSilva Conference; there were speakers from the magazine industry who talked about when print goes away. That was their theme. Do you remember the second-screen folks who were there? I remember you walking out and saying to me, Jim that was amazing. The second-screen guys were embracing television; they weren’t putting television out of business. It was supplemental; they were embracing it. That in a nutshell is the problem with this industry. This industry needs to wake up and realize what happened in the big print shakeout was really a great big “brand” recession in 2007. You have to look at the type of advertising every one of the media delivers most effectively. Nobody’s talking about that. What are you trying to accomplish with your advertising? As a general rule, magazines are most effective as a branding vehicle, while television and web can deliver reach and a price message quickly.
Everybody is looking at it magazine-centric, not agency-centric. Most of the advertising you see right now is price-driven on online. It just is.
Samir Husni: And that’s one of the biggest challenges in the magazine industry and that’s why I’m looking for your help or your advice, because there’s nobody who’s going to argue with you that we live in a digital age. That’s a given. How can we reimagine magazines in print and newspapers in this digital age as opposed to continuing along the same path that we have been before the digital age?
Steve Davis: I think the industry is doing that, whether they’re doing it fast enough or not, I don’t know. This study isn’t going to give you that roadmap, but I think this study is designed specifically for when you are thinking about bets you have to make from a resourcing perspective.
Your sales team, your sales organization, is capital-intensive. How you choose to make a bet as to how many reps are needed, the quality of those reps, whether or not those reps are more inclined to be great relationship managers, more inclined to be great executors of a campaign; you have to have that balance. You absolutely have to have that balance. Again, depending upon the size of your organization and where your business is going to come from, I think that balance should shift.
A lot of the organizations are making that transition, but if you’re not putting more folks on your team who can help with the execution of maybe smaller campaigns, but important campaigns, and they’re either on your team to help procure other business or just to make sure that the digital campaigns are running and being serviced as best as they can, if you’re not using the programmatic help that’s available to do some of that work for you; you should be.
Samir Husni: Jim, in your company, are you looking for multiplatform reps or are you still looking for specific people?
Jim Elliott: I look at the job to be done. It depends on the job and the client. It depends on what industry we’re in. If we’re in B to B, the issues and sellers that we use are different than what I would hire for a new magazine launch in the consumer arena or an ongoing consumer magazine that we’re involved in. It really depends on the job to be done.
That’s not exactly a perfect answer, but unfortunately in this business right now, there are no perfect answers. And none of these companies operate the same. And none of them have the same philosophies about disruption and what’s going on in the world and what the answer to it is.
Steve Davis: There are answers; it’s just not a one-size-fits-all answer. The composition of your potential advertiser base will help determine that answer.
Samir Husni: Is there anything that you’d like to add about the study and how can people access it?
Jim Elliott: There are two ways, they can go to my website, http://www.jamesgelliott.com/, which leads them to SRDS’s website, or they can skip me and go right to SRDS.
Samir Husni: Is there a link?
Jim Elliott: Yes, (click here to download the study). We had hundreds of people download the study a year and a half ago. All the big companies downloaded this, by the way. And they all circulated it, because we had all their names.
Steve Davis: I think I mentioned programmatic and integrated offerings and what’s fascinating to me about programmatic. We added it this year because when we did the last study at the end of 2013. I don’t think it was even on all of our radar screens to ask it.
Just to show you how quickly this has moved; 92% of the media planning and buying community are familiar at some level with programmatic; and two-thirds are involved now in buying programmatically. We’re already starting to see that programmatic is starting to move and this is good news for print’s new publishers. It’s starting to move from a remnant business where a lot of automation businesses have moved. When you were on eBay, back in the day, you could only buy collectable typewriters and then all of a sudden you could buy luxury homes through the automated channel as that business advanced.
You’re seeing that in media now. You’re seeing it move from remnant to private marketplace to automated-guarantee, where publishers can demand a higher premium. And then maybe the most surprising thing was over half of our respondents said they expect that 15% of their 2015 digital budget will be bought through programmatic channels.
So, where 16 months ago it wasn’t even worth asking the question, now we’re looking at it as being 15% of the digital campaign. If you don’t have a programmatic strategy as a publisher, get one. And again, I think that’s more targeted to the small to mid-sized, niche, B to B publishers who are your customers.
Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?
Steve Davis: It’s what I said earlier about are we reminding ourselves the basics as an industry and I’ll say that for the buyer and seller. Time is shorter to plan and buy and I wonder if our media planners and buyers are thinking about the basics. What are the client’s objectives as opposed to how could I buy this specific target audience most efficiently? It’s great when you can buy efficiently, but what are the basics? What are the objectives of the campaign and is that really the best way to do it.
I worry about that and on the publisher’s side and the sell side. I do worry that you get so caught up into fulfilling some of the new opportunities that you forget about Business 101, which means, in the world of selling media, to make sure I know my story and I have prepared my sales reps to tell their story and I have taken advantage of the opportunities out there to promote that.
Jim Elliott: What helps me sleep a little better at night is having people like Steve in the industry. He just said exactly what I would say.
What keeps me up at night is how much longer are we going to let other industries define the magazine industry, because it’s pretty ridiculous if you think about it. We should be proud of the industry and we should embrace it and work in it, not try to get out of it and be something we’re not.
Samir Husni: Thank you.