How To Deal With Predatory Advertising Agencies

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Haven’t you had it with sneaky little advertising agencies snapping up your local direct accounts? You know, those people who used to work for your station, but now they have their own “advertising agency”? The ones who go to your clients and tell them they can buy commercials on your station for less than the client would pay if they dealt with you directly?

How about the ones who say, “My client wants to keep his current low rate with your station. So when you send the invoice to me, just ‘gross it up’ first”? You know, those same people who take your long-standing business away from you and then use your budget on your competitor’s stations. Do you know somebody like this? They’re jealous and defensive, and they strongly advise you to terminate all communications with the client you’ve known for years and still see at church every week. Can you think of an agency that wants your lowest unit rate and “added value”?

You know, the agency that “negotiates” with you so savagely that you feel like you need to take a shower by the time it’s over? The agency that sandbags commercials on your station and then cancels two days before the campaign is supposed to start because they suddenly got a better deal from a competitor? The kind of agency that runs a schedule, collects immediately from the client, and then doesn’t pay you for 90 days? You know, the ones that write the crappiest cliché-riddled copy you’ve ever seen?

I’ve even had an agency to which I directed business win the account and then abruptly cancel my stations and move the budget to another medium. That only happened once, by the way. I’ve had agencies that wouldn’t buy us for any of their accounts and who wouldn’t return my calls, e-mails, and text messages. I’ve had agencies that ran enough business for a client to qualify for a station trip but never told the client about it, instead keeping the trip for themselves.

You know why these parasites get away with this crap? Because we let them. Unfortunately, the station rep doesn’t have as strong a relationship with the client as he thought. Usually, the station rep “never saw this coming.” Why?

We allow these agencies to do these things to us. We capitulate on one buy and then the hounding and the pounding never stops. And we take it! It’s like when you have a sore tooth — but you can’t stop touching it. “Ouch. Owwww! OWWWWWWWW!”

Fight back against the hijackers. Refuse to capitulate on a buy or two. If the agency is telling your clients they can negotiate better rates than your own sales team, fire the agency. Then go to the client directly and tell them that although you no longer recognize the agency, you wish to continue working directly. Give the client good reasons to stick with you. Sell your local direct clients on long-term, non-cancelable agreements. That way, you protect your relationship and budget not only from vultures in other media, but from little advertising agencies.

Warn your clients at the beginning of the relationship. Here’s what I’d say when I felt my relationship was strong enough with my client: “Let me warn you. As soon as this schedule begins, you’re going to get a lot of phone calls and visits — not only from other media reps, but also from small advertising agencies. Most of them hope to pick up your business and at the same time put a wall up between you and me, because they don’t want the two of us to communicate or associate any longer. If you’d like, you can direct all media calls to me and I’ll deal with them. And if you ever do think you need the services of an ad agency, please contact me first so I can steer you toward one of the more creative and ethical shops.”

If the agency never buys you for anything anyway and doesn’t even respond to your e-mails or phone calls, go around them, directly to the decision-maker, and let her know why you deserve to be in the buy. Make your best case to be included. What do you have to lose?

I have agency principals who hate me to this day because my clients hired them but insisted that my business would continue as direct. Agencies have cursed me and have even tried to bribe me to let them buy our station. By the way, the reason the client kept me direct was because I came up with better, more out-of-the-box advertising strategies than their agency. And because I developed very strong client relationships.

We’ve got to stick up for ourselves, lest we continue to be victims of agency stick-up artists. We pay the salaries and the bills at the station and do everything necessary to keep the station legal on the air, and then we let some two-bit agency dictate what we can charge. Stop hitting yourself. Ouch. Stop hitting yourself. Ouch. Oww! OWWWWWWWWW!

Paul Weyland is the go-to person for expertise in increasing long-term local direct broadcast business. Reach him at paulweyland.com or at 512.236.1222.

3 COMMENTS

  1. As a regional sales manager, I mainly deal with agencies. In the past few years it has become increasingly frustrating that most of the agencies we work with do not even have their own buying system. They rely on all of the media reps to do their work for them while they still collect 15% commission. Just this week I did a proposal for an agency representing a political candidate. The agency guy was in Florida on a “working vacation” but needed this placement completed ASAP. It took me three days to get a copy of the check, the proper paperwork to set up the account and the first and only conversation I had with the guy he chewed food in my ear while he bragged that he was on this “working vacation” and wouldn’t be back until next week to mail the check. I think the main reason local clients go to agencies is because the don’t have the time or patience to deal with all the mediocrity of reps that are out there today. If only the client knew who was really still taking care of them.

  2. This column correctly touches upon some good key points…for example, alluding to the fact that some of these smaller-agency types are in effect OUTSELLING the radio rep, and building a better relationship with the client than the radio rep has. ..But a major question is, why do so many radio reps leave radio in the first place, to start their own agency? …

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