Those Were The Days…

Sometimes when I talk about online media buying I feel like Dana Carvey’s ‘angry old man’ character from his days on Saturday Night Live.

“In my day, we didn’t have online reporting; we had to count server logs by hand and we LIKED IT!”

“We didn’t deal with CPMs. We told the publisher how much money we had and they took it and ran our banners (NOT as we know them today), and there was no guarantee of 100 or 100,000 hits (yes, they called them hits), and that’s the way it was and we LIKED IT!”

Well, those were the good ol’ days. Standardized banners and impressions as the ‘atom’ of the online ad universe were still on horizon. Just a few months before committing that first online buy, I was in a room south of Market (San Francisco) listening to Rick Boyce talk about this whole banner concept. ‘Wow,’ I thought, ‘this is pretty cool.’

The first online media buy I took part in was in the fall of ’95 for Nestle, there wasn’t so much in the way of negotiating. The planner I worked for had some money, approached the Merc Center, San Jose Mercury News’ web site, and asked if we could sponsor the weather page for six months. When the answer was yes, we went for it. End of negotiations.

Now, a planner has to call a site or submit a formal RFP and is barraged with tiles, banners, text links, logos, daughter windows, interstitials, and promotions. All of them have a different pricing model. But the entire thing is submitted with an aggregate CPM that is around the desired CPM requested in the RFP. Or there is but one package cost. It’d be like buying a car with no sticker to give the line item pricing of each feature.

How can I be expected to determine the value of a buy unless I know the worth of its parts?

Oftentimes our vendor partners in the online space don’t realize that a buy with them will live or die on the merits of efficiently satisfying a predetermined metric as established by the client. The more accurately I can assess the value of the proposition at the front end, the more fair my evaluation on the back end can be, and the greater the value lent to the client. This is good for both agency and publisher.

The best thing I’ve found to help, though not entirely eliminate this problem, is to submit an Excel spreadsheet formatted the way I’m going to present a plan to the client with all of the relevant data fields already constructed. The more specific I can be with a potential vendor about what it is I want, the more likely that vendor will respond to me the way I want with the information I really need. This yields happier planners because they don’t have to chase down the rep to break out costs; more pleasant reps because planners aren’t calling them in frustration wanting to know what the line-item cost is on a specific component of the proposal; and satisfied clients because questions about each deal are answered before they have to ask them. And the whole process yields greater efficiency because we’re all burning fewer cycles playing “telephone” with one another.

So, a few basic RFP tips:

  • Think first about exactly what it is you need to know BEFORE you ask. You’ll always get what you want if you’re clear about just what that is. This may include data points for both pre- and post-buy analysis. I assure you, most reps will be grateful to you for doing this.
  • Be consistent site to site or you end up comparing apples to oranges, leaving you with an inaccurate analysis. I guarantee you; clients don’t like fruit baskets.
  • Use a standardized form for RFP submission. It will save you a ton of time putting a plan together if all of your fields of evaluation are the same. And as reps get used to them, they can turn them around for you faster.

That’s it for this week. These may sound obvious, but most folk out there aren’t doing this. Though it won’t bring back the old days, it will make the new days seem simpler.

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