Agencies sound off about Web sites

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Earlier this year reporter Jane Hodges asked online ad salespeople from sites large and small to rate agencies with whom they do business. We promised to give agencies their turn to sound off about the reps and what it's like to do business with various sites. Here's what agency execs had to say:

AMERICA ONLINE
Pro:Good demographics, lots of eyeballs, well-designed service.
Con:Slow reporting and the design is clumsy.
Gut Reaction:"I've noticed a big turnaround as far as their business pitching goes. Ever since they moved to the flat-rate model it was like a new company -- my phone has been ringing and ringing. There's definitely a huge push to get more advertisers on board."

Their salespeople are excellent, very aggressive, though upper management is not as in tune. I have encountered some people at the top who were not as enlightened as some of the junior people in New York."

CONDE NET
Pro:Great content. Will allow advertiser to split flights of a campaign. Negotiates rates.
Con:Overpriced. Sometimes inflexible about running unusually-sized creative.
Gut Reaction:"I think that their content is very strong, but I think that they are very overpriced. They are still arguing strong demos, but there's evidence to point that their demographics aren't as strong as they claim. Reporting is OK. They're not the most sophisticated, but they're not supposed to be; their strength is content."

"Great sales folks, very thorough. A lack of flexibility in trying to go beyond the banner scenarios even when there was a nice content fit with what we were trying to do."

ESPNET SPORTSZONE
Pro:Willingness to go beyond the banner.
Con:Their technology isn't as advanced as the site seems to think.
Gut Reaction:"The site offers excellent content and is one of the pioneers of new ad opportunities. However, its technology is not as advanced compared to other sites, and definitely not as advanced as they think it is. I do think they develop excellent sponsorship opportunities."

"Essential if you're targeting men ... I have not found that they negotiate. They have a long background in TV and understand that numbers count."

GEOCITIES
Pro:Content built by end-users. Sophisticated targeting technologies. Good for testing.
Con:Content built by end-users. Traffic not always achievable.
Gut Reaction:"Great to work with. They have very sophisticated targeting technology and ad-serving technology. Their Internet commerce model is unique as far as content goes, and I think they're among the top most sophisticated sites on the Web.

"They're always willing to work with the advertiser and develop something beyond just banners with their communities. They've allowed us to test before, and the results were pretty good. Their pricing is fair and I think the fact that their content is produced by end-users is their strength."

HOMEARTS
Pro:Good content. Willing to work with agencies' proprietary tracking technologies to please advertisers.
Con:Are they delivering women? Pricey.
Gut Reaction: "They're strong in content, but way overpriced. They're selling it as if it were the print model. Their demos aren't as strong as they think they are and their CPM's are expensive. I don't think they're delivering the women demographic they say they are." "They were flexible in negotiating CPMs at least during fourth quarter last year. The creative spoke directly to the audience; it was a financial product in the recipe finder area. It over-delivered and they were responsive in filling out our media tracking templates [for clients]."
INFOSEEK
Pro:Smart sales force. Negotiates rates.
Con:Where's the brand going? Negotiates rates.
Gut Reaction:"They'll go off rate card. They'll do some things that some of the other search engines won't do, like break up packages or change impression levels. We've bought categories and keywords that have turned out really well. We feel that they're not doing as well as the other search engines, but it's usually turned out well for us., It's a wait and see thing for us."

"Probably the most sophisticated search engine as far as ad-serving technology goes. Very cutting edge products ... We use them most frequently for testing because they are extremely reliable."

"They seem troubled and there's no surprise why they would be. There are too many search engines. They've lost a lot of top management."

"They're flexible in negotiating and there is definitely a continuity reward - discount or bonus impressions or whatever is appropriate."

LYCOS
Pro:Strong back end. Good reporting, fair rates.
Con:Sales force is a little unorganized.
Gut Reaction:"As far as putting together packages for us it's kind of tough because they've sold out on all their guides. We can't negotiate the packages ... because inventory is just not available."

"I feel like they're really trying to strong-arm us, and I don't think they can afford to do that given who their competition is. Their reporting and rates are on track. They could be a lot easier to work with."

NEW YORK TIMES
Pro:Good packages, flexible.
Con:High price.
Gut Reaction:"They've been pretty accommodating in terms of putting together packages for us. They agreed to a plan we worked on that had some very strange parameters in terms of price structure ...

It's certainly one of the best print news products on the Web. They're not charging for it, and they shouldn't. For the audience they have, their ad rates are fine."

PATHFINDER
Pro:Wide array of content and ad package options.
Con:Clunky reporting.
Gut Reaction:"Reporting is atrocious....Finding out what was going on with our traffic was a big headache. They couldn't break it out by the dates we wanted. The editorial product, for what they created for us, was nice."

"They've been willing to work with us on the rates and on custom advertising programs. Their reporting is great: You can get it when you want to because it's online. The pricing? I'm not even sure what the rate card was. They get slammed all over the place, and it's really not fair. You have to keep in mind they have more content than anyone else. They have very thorough research and a well-thought-out array of ad packages."

WALL STREET JOURNAL
Pro:Registration brings good target audience; established brand name; flexible with ad program adjustments.
Con:Registration means fewer eyeballs; weirdly sized ad banners.
Gut Reaction:"We thought they weren't going to make our guarantee, but they were able to make adjustments on the fly and so we were able to please the client. Their pricing is a little high, but they were willing to go off the rate card.

"They won't negotiate, no matter what, even if your client is already involved with the print edition, which is really frustrating. I realize they have their own business model and all that, but if the client is spending a lot of money in another property of theirs they should take that into consideration."

YAHOO!
Pro:Strong brand; sales folks willing to negotiate and discount.
Con:Frequently pitch big-scale deals; may be over-confident from early success of their product.
Gut Reaction:"They're very accommodating. We go back and forth in negotiations up to a dozen times to get what we want, and they are usually able to accommodate us. but sometimes they sell out of the more popular stuff."

"They're one of the early successes in the industry, but shouldn't be so confident they'll always have that lead and structure pricing and structure around that."

"They're always putting big, big packages in front of me, like international editions, always trying to bundle some sort of deal across all their different products. They're willing to negotiate a little bit and with the sort of packages they propose; it's not that much."

Copyright June 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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