Watch Out, the Media Reps are Coming!

By: Robert Hendrickson

From: IGC Retailer, November/December, 2012

Watch Out, the Media Reps are Coming!
It was more than a year ago in this column that I offered a warning to make sure you were prepared for an increased attack by clueless yet well-trained media reps. With spring on the horizon and many garden centers still undecided on how best to spend their hard-earned and often ineffective marketing dollars, I thought a recap was in order.

In case you forgot - or ignored - my warning in last year’s article, here’s the essence of what I hoped would prepare people for the looming attack.

Newspaper, radio and television companies are all promoting what their industries call NTR (non-traditional revenue, like online banner ads and social media outreach) for only one reason - increasing the sales volume at their companies, not yours. Remember, media reps aren’t trained in marketing, but they are very well-trained in sales.

Debunking the Proposal
The importance of this recap was brought on by an e-mail I received from a client that included a proposal by a radio rep in search of new prey. The following proposal sent to the garden center presents conventional media foibles, along with my rebuttal in italics for you to use if you become a target of self-serving media reps circling for the kill:

Greetings Philip,

Given the budget of only $4,000, I would recommend 15-second prime time commercials ...

Only well-written ads by recognized household brands can get an effective message across in 15 seconds. The smaller your budget, the less you can afford “prime time” spots.

... to run Wednesday through Friday ...

Why run your ads when every other desperate local retailer who took the same advice from the same rep runs theirs? There’s nothing special about late-in-the-week ad schedules other than competition for attention.

... with a few on weekend rotation.

A good media buyer would get weekend ads for free or at a tremendously reduced price. Don’t agree to broad rotation placement unless your ads are free. Know when your ads are scheduled to run, then make sure to check when the ads actually ran before paying the bill. Even free ads need to be monitored.

We have various giveaway opportunities, and can discuss the trade value exchange when we meet.

I never did understand why retailers fall for this. The station gets the glory for giving away things they don’t have to pay for. There are better ways to disperse donations into your community than giving them to a media company.

Your ads should be scheduled for no more than four weeks with this limited budget.

Our research shows this budget should be spent over just two weeks if scheduled properly. Remember, sales reps are trained in sales, not marketing.

I also suggest you place a banner ad at our website for $500, and consider a post at our Facebook page for $750.

I knew that NTR scheme would rear its ugly head sooner or later. Let’s see … the rep admitted this was a “limited budget,” but had no qualms suggesting the garden center spend almost a third of its money on worthless Internet ads. I told you these folks are well-trained - and self-serving. Anytime Internet ads are brought up by your traditional media reps (and, be assured, the topic will be presented), tell them you’ll take all they have to offer, as long as it’s all free as a bonus for giving them your business.

I’ve attached a sample schedule for your review, although the time and days may not all be available. I was just using them as an example.

You want the garden center to OK $4,000 of their hard-earned money without knowing exactly what they’re getting? Now you know why that cliche “half of my advertising doesn’t work, I just don’t know which half” is, in many cases, quite true.

To reserve these prices I need to hear back from you by close of business Thursday.

When you’re asked to make a quick decision on marketing, one of two things are at play: you should have done a better job planning your marketing, or the offer must be too good to be true, so just walk away.

Ralph the Rep

Get the Facts
While plenty of people continue to believe advertising is an inexact science, the proper way to buy media is as crystal clear as it can be once you understand what actually needs to happen instead of what sales reps suggest you do.

Every few months, Wendy will make one of her astute observations: “I believe it’s time for you to go back to ‘Wizard Camp.’” The timing is usually when I find myself long on grouch and short on patience - not a good place to reside when your job is to observe and analyze, then offer hope for garden centers expecting things to get better as a result of your help.

Wendy is usually right, so I pack and head to the Wizard Academy business school in Austin, TX. A day or two to unload left-brain baggage then swap for an overflow of right-brain potential puts things back in balance. Regardless of the topic, the discussion never strays too far from ways to improve any business.

During marketing classes at the school, it doesn’t take long for a newbie to raise the argument: “Why should I advertise my business during slow months when I make all my money during just a few months a year?” First, it’s amazing how many retail businesses other than garden centers consider themselves “seasonal.” Second, the question is always raised by a retailer that has obvious seasonal sales yet is open year round. The topic continues to be a conflict between those who believe in year-round marketing and those who follow the axiom of only “fishing when the fish are biting.”

The pronouncement addressing the issue comes swiftly with little room for deviation: “Because it requires a lot of time and reminders to get people to choose you over your competitors before they actually make the decision of where to go shopping for what you and your competitors have to offer.”

In two words: preemptive marketing.

In five words: some fish are always hungry.

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