2003 looks like being another challenging year for all of us in the advertising community, with the long-rumoured upturn still somewhere on the horizon.
The current uncertainty about what will happen in the Gulf is pouring cold water onto already troubled financial markets but this is just one of the most recent reasons why advertisers are looking to keep a tight grip on the purse strings of their marketing budgets.
It is well proven that advertisers who maintain spend throughout a downturn will emerge stronger compared to those who choose to freeze marketing budgets. Despite all this research, marketing budgets are still the first to be put on hold during periods of uncertainty, as it is still the easiest short-term option to strengthen the bottom line.
In today’s business world, however, it is not just marketing budgets that have come under scrutiny. Businesses are looking at cost control across all areas to gain a surer footing in the current climate.
For media-owners this means taking a hard look at the question of their Northern sales offices and the resulting strategies seem to fall into two lines of thought.
The passive option is to trim down the office, letting natural wastage take its toll, and sharing out the workload amongst those remaining. This can only be a stopgap solution that will inevitably lead to poorer levels of service.
The more radical route, as adopted by the Express, is to close down regional offices in order to retreat to a head office in London. Whilst it is perhaps somewhat obvious that the former may not be enough to stop the rot, I am certain that the latter is a false economy. In tough market conditions it is even more crucial to have local sales people on the ground, in touch with the local market, building relationships and chasing business.
Therefore, in response to this perennial question of how London-based media owners can best service the 20 per cent of business outside the capital – without incurring unnecessary costs – a huge opportunity for independent media sales houses has presented itself.
An independent can deliver a cost-efficient and proactive service. An independent offers the competitive working environment that many smaller regional offices lack and there is no question that this sort of competitive environment can bring out the best in people.
Andy Jeal, MD at MediaVest, highlights the innate benefits of an independent sales house when saying: “It’s simple; independents are hungrier. They work on commission so if they don’t sell they don’t earn.” This view is shared by many who agree the commission-based remuneration structure of the independent sales houses fosters a more proactive approach. An agency wants good people on the ground, people who can service its business – the question of whether they are from an in-house team or a sales-house team is largely academic.
However, the integration of any regional office needs to be handled with care. Running any sales office that is 200 or 400 miles away from its head office can raise communication issues. That is why it is essential that the office is “on message”, to use a phrase more readily associated with politics. To deliver a seamless level of service is one of the major challenges for any regional office and, whilst improved communication systems make a huge difference, the solution can actually be very simple.
Adam Mills, sales director at Carlton Screen Advertising, sees the answer to successful partnerships in the way relationships are built.
He claims: “We’ve used an independent sales house for years, and the secret is to treat them just like an integral part of the team and not as an outside supplier.” Kathryn Jacob, commercial director at Virgin Radio, concurs on this point but adds that you can’t just adopt an “appoint and forget” policy. It is essential that the regional offices must be fully up to speed on all current issues at the station, as she says, “ It’s like a marriage. You have to work at it to get the best out of it, and we’re looking forward to our 10th anniversary.”
Successful independents will marry these elements to present a service that offers a simple, effective and cost-conscious solution to the media-owners, one that works on every level to offer an answer to the long-standing regional servicing requirement.
The current market will inevitably make people look at their cost base and under this environment independent sales houses are well placed to expand, or as Rousseau might have said if he were alive today, “Let the media owners eat cake, and have it too.”