(By Peter Radd) Like you, I’ve been following the fascinating discussion regarding what Radio Ink calls the “love-hate” relationship between stations and ad agencies. Also like you, I’ve seen that relationship strained, particularly over the last 15 years. Unlike you, I’ve never been employed by either a station or an agency, but as a jingle producer most of my business comes from either a station or an agency. Regardless of who I bill, both entities are involved in the process, and I work very hard so that everyone is happy at the end: the client, the station, and the agency.
I don’t know if agencies and stations will get along better, but I know they can. From my POV, it’s possible that both sides need to better understand the source of the problem (clients), and how to solve it (stations and agencies both need become more curious, talk to each other more, and ask each other for help). Ready? If stations and agencies are going to work together better:
- Both sides need to mutually acknowledge that clients have strained the relationship. This is what clients do to both agencies and stations alike: clients insist on being a part of far too many details of the media, strategic, and creative decisions. They bog all of us down with too much explaining, too much justifying, and the presentation of too many irrelevant options. They ask and value too many opinions from their vastly unqualified associates and then they take far too long to make decisions. When the trigger is finally pulled, we watch so many of them attenuate their advertising potential. This is what clients want, and this is also what strains our industry every day. The very good news is that clients have been crystal clear to us about what they want, and clients will pay for what they want. It’s up to us to figure out how to work together to provide it for them, at a fair profit to ourselves.
Agencies: Respectfully, please brush up on the concept that it is your job to know: respect and protect the interests of all three sides of the transaction. It’s important to always improve in the delicate art of negotiating more value for less cost, without denigrating the value. Every time you tell a client “yeah, I can squeeze them for a cheaper rate,” you’re devaluing the station, you’re devaluing advertising, and you’re devaluing yourself.
Stations: When an agency comes to you with a request that makes you think, “I just can’t understand how this agency could possibly ask such a thing. . .“, the good news is, you’re correct: you don’t understand. The bad news is that few of you respond by sincerely asking questions. ASK FOR HELP from the agency. Ask them to help you understand. Ask why. Ask for the history of the situation — break it down into components, learn, then offer options.
- Both sides need to let the clients be the client — only their opinion matters. Referencing the “rant” from item #1 above, clients are telling us loudly and clearly that they just want us to listen, ask questions, then present multiple options — period. It’s true in both the scheduling and content of the ads. They may ask for your “opinion,” but what they are usually asking for is options. Frame your responses that way always, and you’ll get respect from them. Rather than “I think you should ___ ,“ say, “One thing you can do is ____ or maybe ______.” If they ask “What do you think of _____?” say, “Yeah, there pluses and minuses — let’s go over them.”
Agencies and stations both: In the client’s mind, THEY are the “expert,” not you. OUCH! However — there’s a fantastic solution. Here’s one thing I say to all my new clients:
“I’m not the expert at what you should do, I’m the expert at offering things you can do, and I can also go over the pluses and minuses of each for you.”
Try it sometime – clients love it.
- Both sides need to understand that today’s ad agency is not really an “agency.” At least not how we understand the term when it’s otherwise used — “real estate agency,” “insurance agency,” or “talent agency.” It is simply impossible for ad agents to understand all the moving parts of all the available media. Many firms with “agency” in their name specialize in one or two media, one or two client types, or are simply a direct provider of whatever service they offer in-house. Others are consultants or strictly media buyers.
Agencies — If you’re not fluent in radio, ASK FOR HELP before you submit a purchase, or request any service. Stations already know that most of you are in over your head in many situations, and it’s ok. Really — it’s ok. Don’t worry how “it looks” to ask for help. You might be astonished at how much respect you’ll command, for yourself and on behalf of your clients, by asking for help.
Stations — It’s vital that you thoroughly profile agencies when accepting business from them. Identify for yourself the role and relationship between the agency and their client(s). No two are the same.
In the coming years, you’re going to receive more and more unreasonable requests for services. You already get this from your local-direct accounts, so don’t be so shocked that they come from agencies also. It is your responsibility to use these as opportunities to build-bond+brand with the agency. Yes, this takes considerably more time and effort, but the payoffs in good relationships and honor to your station’s brand will be substantial. I have two guidelines for this that serve me well:
Every agency-client relationship is unique. It is my responsibility to learn the boundaries of that relationship, and to keep my conduct and service within those boundaries.
When an agency makes an unreasonable request, I always respond with curiosity and questions, never with attitude, “vibe,” or contradiction.
4. Both sides need to solve the payment problem. When agencies don’t pay in a timely manner, they have one problem. When they don’t think that untimely payments are a problem, that is also a problem.
Agencies — Fact: Clients will pay deposits up front, and balance on completion for all kinds of services. They’ll do it for advertising as well. If your response to this is “no, they won’t,” then I ask you: When was the last time you asked? Fact: When you don’t charge up front, you devalue the product/service, and that includes your value as well. You can charge clients and pay your vendors in a timely manner, but many of you choose otherwise. You’re experts at brand-building yes? Great, let’s work on YOUR brand. Watch how you can distinguish yourselves from other agencies by paying promptly. Watch how quickly stations will return your calls, and seem so much more interested in accommodating your client’s unique demands when they know they NEVER have to chase a check from you. Bonus if you pay ahead of other agencies. Finally, watch how a station might be more willing to contribute to a community cause close to your heart when they don’t have to act like a charity themselves and call you for their money.
Stations — If you’re so inclined, discuss what I wrote above to the agencies about deposits and balance on completion. Beyond that, you just have to draw lines for yourselves, and then enforce them. If certain agencies have repeated payment problems, don’t enable them. Don’t give them repeated business without full payment up front. Additionally, don’t become an interest-free payday lending service to even your best accounts who want to stretch . . stretch . . stretch the pay period. It hurts all of us, and that hurt will make its way around to you eventually.
Peter Radd lives in Las Vegas and produces jingles for clients in small to mid-sized markets. His work has been heard in all 50 states, and he also produced two of the top jingles in his market – – for Attorney Glen Lerner, and for UNLV Tickets. He is also plays piano at Bellagio. Connect with him at [email protected] or at his website: Raddtunes.com