Collaborative selling to ad agencies builds trust in media companies

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


A few years back, in the post-iPhone/iPad launch era, I led the charge for the Daily Telegraph here in London on introducing “mobile” into consciousness of mainly young agency media planners and buyers. 

As smartphone penetration became more prevalent globally, there was a need to educate agency staff on the “power of mobile" from an advertising perspective and get on their radar as a premium channel sell. 

There was a time mobile was seen as an add on, meaning selling to ad agencies had to be done differently.
There was a time mobile was seen as an add on, meaning selling to ad agencies had to be done differently.

Up to that point, mobile was seen as an add on to existing schedules and wasn’t viewed by many as a channel in its own right. 

I realised there was little point going into an agency and talking mobile rate cards and costings as many of our media competitors were doing exactly that. We were in danger of being just the next media house “selling their wares” and being perceived as being bereft of imagination, with no creativity and no flair. In that environment, we would be lucky to get one or two junior members of staff to see us and politely listen to a few words on packaged prices from us, take our rate card, and then disappear fast back to their desks.

So, I took the angle of a creative roadshow as part of what would become a collaborative sell.

I am sure you might well do something of this ilk already, but in my case, I thought about our USP(s) and used, in our case, my own INMA experience giving a talk (to the entire agency, as it often was the case suddenly) on the future of media. I creatively interspersed some rate card information into the mix, and everyone got a rate card/pack in some form post-event. But the focus was more on helping them (those young media planners and buyers chiefly) understand how the media industry worked and was changing — the very industry they had to work with.

Throw in a bit of sparkle — in my case a bit of relevantly themed fun via some fun, magic/illusion with a prize for a lucky volunteer! — and everyone went away thinking they have been entertained whilst learning something of value.

We then followed that up with what we called “immersion days” — a digital/print deep dive into the opportunities, packages, and platforms using, for example:

  • Giant Twitter walls to creatively show the birth and journey of Telegraph tweets.
  • An interactive screen-based coffee table showing Telegraph content in a unique way whilst envisaging how readers might one day costume our content at home.
  • Specially printed newspapers with every conceivable print version of an ad inside, which were also AR-enabled to show the digital versions, too.                                                                 

These are just a few examples of how we made them see we were not their “father’s newspaper,” but instead a thriving, vibrant, relevant, multi-media news brand. 

Advertising agencies may need more bells and whistles to understand the complete offering of a news media company these days.
Advertising agencies may need more bells and whistles to understand the complete offering of a news media company these days.

Then, added to the above, we ran “print-to-digital” workshops where we told everyone there was no such thing as a stupid question as “we are all learning together.” You’d be amazed at what came out! 

The point is, this was the start of a consultative approach to our agency folk and cemented our position as experts in what we did and that we were friendly, approachable masters of our own industry.

It was truly incredible how this transformed how we were perceived, and we could see tangible results following in terms of actual sales increases.

We were (rightly) trusted.

So, I told all this to my advertising committee members, specifically to Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (Canada), and to Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (New Zealand). What was their take on how to deal with agencies today from inside their operations? 

Well, collaborative selling is very much at the forefront of the thinking.

The Globe and Mail started (pre-pandemic) with its own education days. Tracy Day told me: “We found that agency planners and buyers were not familiar with newspapers for a start. They didn’t read them. However, when we invested in educating them, we saw real results.” 

Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (left), and Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (right).
Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (left), and Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (right).

Steve Hutton said this: “Young people in agencies don’t tend to pick up a newspaper. For them, it’s all about the story, which makes them look like rock stars. We try to educate on how to grow their client brands with our help. Our competitors, we found, seem to talk at them. Instead, we help them, for example, learn how to read and use research properly. It’s beyond performance marketing. We try and help them find the magic to make them look good in front of their clients.”

Steve added: “CPM models work for us, too. They get that. They understand CPM so we bundle up on that basis. It then becomes not about platform. Everything becomes valuable.” 

Tracy: “Client direct works best. When we can, we go direct. It may go through an agency ultimately via the client, but we get much more business if direct.” 

This point amplifies what ad agency guru Sir John Hegarty told the INMA master class earlier this year: that if we can target clients direct and give them the tools to educate agencies from their end, too, it’s a win/win.

Steve: “We also have ‘partnership people’ inside our business who actually work for the agency as part of their education. It’s too big a market not to take it all seriously. Agencies can be lacking in resource. Many downsized during the pandemic. Any assistance therefore from us is really well received.”

Steve shared these four stages of communicating to agency teams: 

  1. The basics.What essentials they need to know about media.
  2. Ideation. Collaboratively working together on new ideas that really work, using our experience, and how to think creatively.
  3. Programmatic. Making it easy for them to understand. How can they transition to a private marketplace for instance?
  4. Growth partnerships.What objectives are there for the next 12 months? How can we help them achieve them and help them be successful? 

“We get a 100% open door for doing this,” Steve told me. “Also, it’s worth noting that many agency people are judged on the brands they bring on and develop … and the awards they win. We have built a collaborative programme based on both strategy and tactics — from walking through the brief (tactical) at the outset, to delivery of objectives and beyond (strategic). We found we needed to change. We were previously getting to a position where we were just responding to briefs, but now we have a new way of thinking.” 

I then asked Tracy and Steve if they thought an unconscious bias exists when it comes to choosing media for clients inside agencies? 

Tracy: “Yes, it exists. It’s easy for them to ‘get’ certain media as they use it themselves. But there are audiences and platforms we can offer that are unique and powerful. We help them with the ideation, for example developing custom content around areas of importance. It’s sometimes hard, but we educate them as much as we can and it pays off.”

Steve: “We took the position of asking them where they need to be for their client to be happy. It prompts the question from the agency on how do they get to be No. 1 in their market (and award-winning) where they can win as well as the client. It becomes clear quickly that it’s not achieved by just concentrating on what they already know. We can provide a new dynamic and new thought process.”

And what of print? Should it be a part of our offerings still? 

Tracy: “Never be apologetic for offering print! Packaging print with digital is really powerful. We can back it up, too. It works! Don’t be afraid to force packages onto advertisers.” 

Steve: “Never indeed. Push the brand safety of print. This is our super power within agencies against Facebook. Use it.”   

So, In summary, it’s all about getting closer, understanding agency thinking/ethos, their (maybe, unconscious) bias, their weaknesses in eduction/learning, and then challenging all this — inspiring them to greater heights with our help and expertise.

Any last points? 

Steve: “Brand and creative agencies are used still by many advertising clients, but they don’t always need a buying agency. Is there a gap for publishers here?” 

Food for thought for all media companies?

And while you ponder that, remember to make them (those young media planners and buyers) look like rock stars. When we do, we are halfway to helping ourselves.

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About Mark Challinor

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