(By Paul Weyland) Someone invited me to a surprise party for an elderly person with acute heart problems. The inviter’s intentions were good, but I mean, come on. What could go wrong? Surprise!
I hate surprises, even the good ones, but especially the bad ones. For broadcast account executives, nothing is worse than suddenly discovering that a local direct account you thought you knew well is suddenly cancelling and going with an advertising agency, or to another medium or station.
Panic sets in. What the…What am I going to say to my sales manager? “I’m sorry, but I never saw it coming. I really thought we had a great relationship. I don’t know what happened.” Yes, now we can see the depth of your client “relationship,” up close and personal. You thought you had this account in the bag and now we discover that you were actually the one in the bag.
Here are some things you can do to insure that you minimize your exposure to bad surprises in the future:
1. Don’t be naïve. Why would you think for a minute that as soon as your new account airs for the first time that other media people, including some agencies, wouldn’t swoop down on your new client and begin forming relationships as well? And why would you assume that the client would automatically phone you and tell you about these calls? The client has absolutely no obligation to tell you about the other stations, media, and agencies that she is talking with.
2. Recognize this elephant in the room and discuss it with your client. “I have an obligation to tell you that as soon as your new commercial begins running, you may be deluged by nuisance calls from other media people. If you’d like, you could refer all of those calls to me. I’ll save you time by sifting through them and if I find something that might be of use to you, I’ll bring it to your attention so that you can decide whether or not that is something you might want to explore further.” You’d be surprised (Ha!) at how many times I get this response. “Wow. You’d do that for me? Thank you. I hate having to deal with all of those people.”
3. Some of the advertising agencies in your area might not be what you would consider creative geniuses, but I’ll tell you one thing: they are typically much better than us when it comes to retaining long-term business. If you think that they’re not having some form of the above conversation with their clients, then you’re naïve indeed. Let’s learn from what agencies do well and implement what we learn. Perhaps we’ll save ourselves the disappointment of a surprise cancellation later on.
4. Convince the client to sign an annual agreement with you as soon as possible. There are many reasons why it’s in your best interest to do so and many reasons for the client as well. Let’s start with why it’s in your best interest to always ask for annual business from your local direct client.
— It gives you some immunity from other media vultures that want the accounts you’ve worked so hard to procure.
— It allows you to move past the monthly “shakedown.” “You did something with us last month. Do you have anything for us next month?” Without an annual contract and an annual plan, every time the client sees you, you look like you’re shaking them down for money. In the decision-maker’s eyes you look more like a pest than a resource.
— Since you’re not constantly hitting them up for money anymore, you have the opportunity to build a long-term relationship, perhaps a lifelong relationship, with your clients.
Here’s what’s in it for the client to have a long-term agreement with you:
— Locked-in rates and guarantees that spots will run when you say they’ll run.
— All of the perks that a priority client deserves, including tickets to concerts and invitations to important events.
— A year to give your audience good reasons to shop him instead of his multinational competitor, without necessarily having to give up his gross margin of profit in order to attract them. In other words, value almost always trumps price. I have clients that never ever have to advertise sales. Instead, they use their commercials to teach value.
— An insurance policy against “bad word of mouth” advertising. Consumers may hear something negative about your client from a friend or a website posting. But since the client, through his long-term commitment with you, has invested in building a long-term trust and relationship with members of your audience, consumers may give your client the benefit of the doubt.
— The client doesn’t have to lie when he tells other media reps, “I’ve already made my advertising plans for the year.”
5. Neglected customers cancel. Neglected customers cancel. Neglected customers cancel. Neglected customers cancel. Don’t neglect your customers. Clients complain that once they’re sold by a media executive they hardly ever see them again. Bad idea. Some sellers are literally afraid to go back, afraid that when they do the client will complain or find a reason to back out of the agreement. Make it a point to see your clients on a regular basis. Promise them that you’ll check in with them once per week to make sure that spots and schedules get tweaked if necessary, to check on the status of the campaign, to meet with the client’s salespeople and talk about the promotions coming up — any good reason to regularly see your client is a good idea. When little fires come up, you can easily put them out. But little fires grow quickly into larger ones, ones that can get out of your control. Keep in touch with your clients.
Stay vigilant and protect your work. Don’t assume anything and perhaps you’ll avoid another “SURPRISE!!!!!”
Paul Weyland works with broadcasters in all-sized markets to help them develop and keep more long-term local direct business. Call Paul about customized teleconference sales meetings, local direct strategies in any product/service category, or to speak at your next event or conference. Reach Paul Weyland at 512 236 1222 or at paulweyland.com .