Editorial: Mags must listen when P&G talks

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Procter & Gamble Co.'s media agency wants magazines to shrink the number of reps that work on P&G business, and P&G would like to snare related savings. For P&G, it's another aggressive idea to make the marketing supply chain more efficient. For magazine executives, many of them angered by this "intrusion," this is part of today's difficult business reality-and also an opportunity.

P&G, the nation's No. 1 magazine advertiser (accounting for about 3% of U.S. magazine measured spending), has muscle in the magazine world. Elsewhere in the economy, big customers already tell vendors how the "interface" between them will work. P&G, itself, dances to the wants of its No. 1 customer, Wal-Mart Stores. Publicis media agency Starcom MediaVest created a dedicated planning unit specially organized to match its P&G customer's business structure. Now it's magazines' turn to innovate.

We are in the age of marketing procurement, and P&G leads the way in examining how it buys the services that help it sell. Its deployment of procurement practices with agencies has seemed fair and enlightened; and, notably, it did not hit magazine publishers with a simplistic dictum to cut prices-period. It instead presented a process change that can lead to lower personnel costs for magazines and lower prices (or smaller price increases) for P&G.

Magazine publishers hardly want outside constraints on how they sell their properties to advertisers. Many, maybe most, will not welcome the assertiveness of P&G and Starcom MediaVest. But, like sales professionals everywhere, they know the customer must ultimately be heard. In the consolidated world of media buying and magazine ownership, P&G's desire to communicate with fewer reps makes sense. Does the P&G way signal broader change? That's up to advertisers, agencies and media. But buying processes can be improved. Note to media: The customer is always right.

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