A Fighting Chance

Kantar Media SRDS & James G. Elliott Study: Second in a Series

from Issue #2, 2014
The following article gave such a good overview of current agency media planning and buying practices that we wanted to bring it to you in its entirety.  It features the Market Study sponsored by Kantar SRDS and the James G. Elliott Co., Inc.  Reprinted with permission from Association Media & Publishing's Signature magazine, May/June 2014 issue.

What influences agency media buyers the most? Struggling to connect with over-burdened buyers, associations can win if they understand what agencies are looking for—and how to give it to them.


“Understanding Today’s Media Buyers,” a new market research study conducted by SRDS and the James G. Elliott Co., Inc., sheds some fresh perspective on what it takes to win business from an advertising agency.

“One of the most important takeaways from this study for associations is that relationship selling is clearly less prevalent in the media buying world,” says James G. Elliott, president of his national media ad sales company, which has sold advertising in print and digital publications for more than three decades. “It’s something that has been happening over a period of years, but it is clearly affecting how publishers and their sales reps work with agencies now more than ever.

“It’s important to understand this trend,” Elliott continues, “because one of the things associations have always counted on most is their relationships with members and the companies that advertise to those members.”

Elliott says the new study underscores that the relationship between buyer and seller is no longer as important as the quality of the product or service being sold. Furthermore, Elliott says, due to agency buyers with too many brands to manage and the constant turnover of these buyers — as often as every one or two years — it is extremely difficult to form meaningful relationships. 

SRDS, which has provided media rates and related data to connect publishers with advertisers for more than 95 years, joined forces with James G. Elliott Co. in Q4 2013 to conduct research to gain a better understanding of the information needs of media buyers at advertising agencies. The goal was to discern what factors have the most impact on their media selections today.

In October 2013, invitations to participate in the survey were sent out to 4,000 individuals at ad agencies, with 204 individuals responding (5.3 percent). Respondents confirmed that they had researched, recommended, planned, or bought B2B, consumer magazine, or digital media in the past 12 months. The following are study highlights that are relevant to associations.

1| More media buyers are planning and buying advertising schedules all year long, as opposed to the more traditional pattern of planning and buying advertising in the fall for the coming year. In the study, 63 percent of media buyers said they are buying schedules sporadically, quarterly, or semi-annually. “This means that association publishers or their advertising reps don’t know when to reach out anymore,” says Lindsay Morrison, vice president of marketing communications, SRDS at Kantar Media SRDS. “It’s more challenging for ad sales reps to know when to submit proposals to clients.”

2| More of the decision-making is happening with less input from a publication’s advertising sales rep. “The survey showed that client input, the previous year’s plan, and third-party resources rank highest in terms of what media buyers use when preparing and selecting the list of media for consideration,” says Morrison. “Input from the publication sales rep ranked below those three.”

3| Media buyers are looking for integrated products with a variety of components beyond print, in part because they are now responsible for more media types. “You must have an integrated product in your proposal to get an agency’s attention,” says Morrison. 

Almost all (94 percent) of agency respondents are responsible for planning across three or more media types and more than half (61 percent) said they are responsible for six or more media types.

Additionally, 84 percent have digital media responsibilities along with responsibilities for one or more of the other media types.

4| Media buyers are looking for new or unique pricing ideas. It’s important for associations to think their proposals through very carefully before submitting them to an advertising agency, because the study showed that 87 percent of media buyers never or rarely give excluded publishers a chance to change their proposals.

5| Ad agencies still have a high use of RFPs, but the amount of time they are allowing for publishers to respond to them is shrinking.  Morrison says 82 percent of the agencies said they use RFPs always or often in their planning, and only 2 percent said they never use RFPs.

“The biggest change in the RFP process, however, is the amount of time the publication is allowed to turn them around,” she notes. “Agency media buyers say they are working on more campaigns and more brands, therefore they have less time to deal with the RFP process.” About 90 percent of respondents said they allow 10 or fewer workdays for RFP completion, and 40 percent said they allow five or fewer days.

6| Cost-per-thousand and discounts off the rate card still top the list of what affects an agency’s buying decision. “We’ve heard of associations sometimes pushing back against going off the rate card, and often, it could be a directive from their board in an effort to be fair to all members,” says Morrison. “However, today’s media buyers absolutely expect to be offered a discounted rate from what appears on the publication’s rate card.”

Morrison said all respondents said they expect a discount off the rate card, and the average discount they expect is 29 percent. “If associations aren’t willing to do that, it could present a challenge for them with advertising agencies,” she says.

7|Budget changes (82 percent) and client dictates (74 percent) most often cause a publication to lose an advertising agency’s recommendation. Other factors include lack of performance, lack of new ideas, and change in strategic decision.


Realizing exactly who is making the recommendation and buy is a big part of understanding advertising agencies.

“When it comes to ad agency buyers, we joke that it’s a 24-year-old, managing a $24 million budget, who’s got 24 hours to build a plan,” says Morrison. “And that’s not too far from the truth.”

Morrison says these young professionals are best described as media generalists who are looking for an integrated proposal that includes a variety of components beyond print. “You must have more than print in your proposal to get their attention,” she says.

In fact, print-heavy proposals better have some independent studies to prove engagement in the publication, Morrison adds. “Print publications should do custom studies to prove their value. Studies show that print is still important to people, but it’s harder to find the data to prove it,” she says, “and you need to be able to prove it.”

Another challenge is that media buyers say they simply don’t have the time to do the research they need to do to make an informed recommendation to clients. Subsequently, the work is falling back on the advertising sales rep.

“Ad agencies are a very important part of the selling process, but selling to a client through their ad agency is more work because each one has their own systems and processes,” says Al Rickard, CAE, president, Association Vision, an advertising sales rep firm. “It takes longer to make the sale, and it is harder to reach the decision maker in following up.”

Sales reps often complain about the “gigantic spreadsheets” that an agency may ask them to fill out with information that is already in our publication’s media kit, says Rickard. “Some of these spreadsheets are so vast and complicated, it takes a lot of time to regurgitate information that’s already available to them elsewhere,” he says, adding that a sales rep can spend days filling out several spreadsheets’ worth of information and crafting a response to the agency’s request for integrated products and special deals.

Rickard says he works hard to have a live conversation with an ad agency buyer because they often are new professionals who are trying to justify their recommendations based on the numbers. “Associations have direct relationships with their readers and their advertisers, and an agency buyer should take that into consideration when comparing an association magazine with a smaller circulation to a larger B2B publication serving the same industry with a larger circulation.”

A perfect example is NACS Magazine, published by NACS—The Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing. Stacey Dodge, advertising director for NACS, says her publication is in a very competitive advertising marketplace, “full of magazines that reach everyone just to boost their overall circulation.” Dodge says these competitors’ circulation is comprised of “more than 50 percent of wasted eyes” because they go to non-decision makers.

NACS Magazine, on the other hand, is very focused on targeting the C-level decision makers who are NACS members and represent the circle of buyers in the convenience industry. When NACS works directly with the suppliers who exhibit at the annual NACS Show, Dodge says they understand how important NACS Magazine’s targeted audience of buyers really is.

NACS Magazine has the unique position of being the only publication with access to the complete list of retail buyers who attend our very successful annual trade show,” she says. “Most agencies are not familiar enough with our industry to understand the value of this. They tend to buy on sheer numbers and cost-per-thousand, regardless of who they’re reaching.”

Stephanie Holland, market development manager of online advertising at the American Chemical Society, says that although ACS publishes 44 scientific research journals, a weekly magazine and digital edition, e-newsletters, a mobile app and a blog — and even though 161,000 members receive its flagship publication, Chemical & Engineering News — ACS is still in a niche, B2B space.

To help agencies better understand what her association has to offer, Holland has run advertising programs with SRDS for almost seven years. “In B2B, it can be more challenging to get agency business,” she says. “Most companies that advertise with us buy media in-house and are familiar with industry associations, but when a brand uses an agency, they may not be as familiar with smaller, niche publications like ours.”


Elliott says the new market research study contains a number of interesting insights into the decision-making process of ad agency buyers that will help associations understand the agency mindset more clearly.

“It’s important to have a direct relationship with your advertisers, but that’s getting harder to accomplish,” Elliott says. “The next best thing is to gain a deeper understanding of the agency buyers’ approach to recommending media and make sure you have someone on your team who knows how to present them with what they’re looking for.” 

Carla Kalogeridis (ckalogeridis@associationmediaandpublishing.org) is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing.

Get your own copy of the Study, Understanding Today’s Media Buyers, on our NEWS page, or directly from SRDS, at: http://next.srds.com/for-media