FRONT OFFICE BY MARY COLLINS

Extending e-Business Solutions To Ad Sales

Whether managing a retail business or selling advertising, automated solutions address the customer’s need for service that’s fast as well as efficient. The scarcity of time can often lead to a lack of communication and deals can break down as a result. In contrast, electronic proposals save time and increase accuracy, helping the buyer, their client and you.

In my last column, I focused on tips from industry experts on “How to Keep Your Top Sales Performers.” Most of the discussion focused on evaluating compensation and management strategies. But an article by Mike McHugh, VP of media sales at media buying and selling firm STRATA Marketing, got me thinking about another question: Are we equipping our account managers with the right tools for becoming successful sales agents in today’s digital media world?

Published earlier this year in MFM’s The Financial Manager magazine, McHugh’s article, “The 21st Century Drive-Through” contrasts the ways that a fast food eatery in his neighborhood uses the latest automation technology to come out ahead of the competition with the current level of technology used by our account reps to sell advertising.

McHugh notes: “This eatery has truly made it easy to buy its food by focusing on their customer experience, and it provides a great example for media companies. So many TV, radio, cable and print companies are hyper-focused on cost savings. That’s understandable. But there is a way to keep an eye on the bottom line and make it easier for clients to buy your product by going electronic.”

Whether managing a retail business or selling advertising, automated solutions address the customer’s need for service that’s fast as well as efficient. The scarcity of time can often lead to a lack of communication and deals can break down as a result. In contrast, “electronic proposals save time and increase accuracy, helping the buyer, their client and you,” McHugh points out.

As a first step toward automated selling, McHugh recommends sending proposals using a standard XML (extensible markup language) document to make the process simpler. In McHugh’s experience, most media sellers and virtually all media buyers already have XML files available to them through some brand of software.

“When the buyer receives the XML, he says, “the entire proposal can be loaded in seconds on the buyer’s desktop. In an instant, you’ve outlined everything you want your customers to see and you saved the time and effort it takes to re-type your proposal in their system.”

BRAND CONNECTIONS

In addition, many agencies have already embraced e-business software like ePort, DARE and AEInbox and media vendors have the ability to easily integrate with these platforms, according to McHugh. “These ‘electronic super-highways’ offer tremendous benefits like date/time stamps, confirmation records and change management for make-goods and revisions.”

Another big advantage of this approach is the ability for media buyers to deliver the same order electronically back to a media outlet’s traffic system. As McHugh observes in his article, not having to re-key a customer’s order not only saves time, it also reduces the chances of getting their order wrong. “It is a win-win for both parties — improved efficiencies for the seller and a better experience for the customer.”

For McHugh, incorporating automation into sales proposals is a natural extension of the work by media companies and their agencies on EDI’s — electronic data initiatives that are already benefitting other components of the ad-buying process. For example, most media companies now send electronic invoices that load into an agency’s reconciliation software.

Buyers and sellers both benefitted from the time and money saved by eliminating paper, postage and handling and, on the buyer’s side, re-entering every detail on the affidavit. Adoption of these measures also improved the accuracy of invoicing and, as a result, helped media businesses to reduce their DSO — day sales outstanding.

The industry took another huge step toward end-to-end automation of the media buying workflow this year with the launch of EMCAPP — the Electronic Media Credit Application. As I recapped in an earlier “Front Office column,” EMCAPP serves as an industry-wide tool for use by advertisers, advertising agencies and media providers, reducing the time and money spent by all three of these constituencies on the credit application process.

In addition to providing advertisers the opportunity to complete one credit application — at no charge — for an entire buy instead of preparing separate applications for each media provider, the single credit application is available to any participating media business whenever and virtually wherever it’s needed. EMCAPP provides complete, legible information to speed the decision-making process for credit departments. It also frees up valuable time for sales departments, allowing them to focus on business development instead of paperwork.

Developed by BCCA, the media industry’s credit association, EMCAPP also allows participating media businesses to move seamlessly from the EMCAPP website to the BCCA Credit Reporting System, which maintains a database of more than 40,000 custom reports on local and national advertisers, agencies and buying groups.

Automation of these elements of the credit approval process provide advertisers, ad agencies  and media outlets the same benefits of speed, flexibility, efficiency and accuracy that they are experiencing with EDIs addressing the purchasing and payment processes, which is helping to drive EMCAPP’s adoption across the industry.

There is no charge to advertisers or agencies to add, update or delete credit applications in the system. And, we are making EMCAPP available at no charge to all BCCA members through April of 2014. After that, members will be able to purchase either an annual subscription or a pay-as-you-go plan.

More information about the EDI is available on the EMCAPP website, http://www.emcapp.com and we are hosting an informational Webinar about EMCAP on Oct. 12. It will also be among the topics at BCCA’s upcoming Media Credit Seminar, which will be held in New York on Nov. 12.

McHugh reports some media businesses are taking these e-business initiatives even further by setting up customized websites for their local markets. “Posting a stations’ spot log electronically would allow the buyers to show their advertising clients exactly when their spots aired, down to the second.”

Another advantage of these tools is their ability to make essential data available to customers 24/7/365. “Using the same Web site, you could allow your buyers to place an order any time, or to see current program offerings, specials, rates and more. You might be surprised how many buyers work outside of the standard business hours,” suggests McHugh.

This last point strikes me as another reason to place some urgency on getting our ad business operations literally up to speed. Media buyers typically represent some of the youngest members of a major retail business or ad agency. And today’s millennials are the likeliest among us to prefer solutions that are available on their smartphones and accessible at all hours.

In addition, many advertising customers are enjoying the advantage of automated ad sales with their digital media purchases. Nearly one-fifth of U.S. display advertising budgets were spent using automated systems this year, a 74% increase over last year, and amounting to $3.34 billion, according to eMarketer.

On the traditional media side, media organizations like ESPN, Cablevision, A&E Networks, Tribune, AOL and Clear Channel have joined the Magna Consortium, a group devoted to “expanding the pipeline of available inventory that can be planned and purchased through automated means.”

As McHugh reminds us, automated sales tools benefit both media providers and our customers. That’s not to say that every media buy should be treated in the same way. The food sold by a fast-food drive-through is very different from the menu at a five-star restaurant.

However, what both of those venues have in common is their use of automated systems that focus on improving the customer’s experience of their respective brands. Empowering account reps with e-business tools will help to ensure they can deliver the type of customer experience that is becoming increasingly important in our digital world.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. She can be reached at [email protected]Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.


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