Magazine reps get no respect

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In my 41 years of active duty in the magazine business, the past four have been the worst for magazines trying to sell and tell their values to agencies. The agencies' lament, at present, is there are too many magazines and too few people on their side to see them. I'm sorry. That ain't fair.

In terms of magazine management and sales people getting dates to see media people at advertising agencies and media buying shops (let alone get to decision makers in those organizations), it's never been worse.

When appointments are finally made, they're canceled or postponed into the next millennium!

When dates are made with senior media agency decision makers, the most junior of juniors says he or she will take the meeting instead (which is especially embarrassing to the sales person the brings his or her management along).

Or there is inattention to the point of rudeness. This happened very recently: A senior magazine sales person of 20-plus years in the business noticed the media buyer was fiddling with his computer mouse, playing solitaire on his computer screen, while she was talking. The senior magazine pro said, "If you shut down your computer, I'll give you two tickets to the Giant game of your choice." (You can't make this stuff up!)

Or you wait a half-hour in a reception room for your meeting with a buyer only to be told it's canceled. Or the media agency person cancels by phone and says "call me in three weeks" rather than set a new date. It is so bad at certain agencies that when they win the account of an advertiser that your magazine does business with you realize you will never see that account's media person again.

I promise you it wasn't always this way.

I'm writing this piece as a caring, empathetic person who has observed this "lack-of-access" disease and who would love to have the media-buying community repair the wrong.

meeting the challenges

For its part, the magazine industry has more than met the challenges that the media-buying community has put before it. They've asked us for marketing opportunities beyond the printed page. They've asked us for multi-platform programs from our media companies. They've asked us for more research to prove our worth. (We are the most over-researched industry at present, but have met that challenge, too.)

The present wall that agencies have put up is the RFP, which stands for "Remember, Forget People" in the selling equation. It is not an answer to giving each magazine its fair shot at representing itself. This is simply an attempt to commoditize our industry.

All business is personal. We in the magazine business have spent an amazing amount of time and money to garner personal relationships with agency media people. In the past, the people who are now heads of media-buying shops and advertising agency media departments partnered with us to learn their business, and ours, and to help us sell better. It is up to them to change the present pattern.

Tell me what's wrong with this business model: We invest more hours than we care to remember to get more dates to represent ourselves. When we get the dates, we present our cases, we argue our position, we respond to an RFP of 18 pages (with a due date of two days hence). And, when we win the business, we magazines give the agency 15%.

No client gives the agency 15% any more. But we still do. Maybe we should award the agency commission based upon "performance." That performance would be this:

ground rules

At least once a quarter, we have a chance to see the agency media group, from the agency media director on down, in multiple meetings or a group meeting.

There would be one rule. What we have to say must be new and/or it must work on the negatives that have been put before our magazine as reasons for not buying this particular medium.

Or, in the alternative, devise a system of opportunistic dates on idea selling which should be on an as needed basis.

Magazine management and sales people need an audience-both to hear why they are not getting the business as well as why they got it.

Let me not leave the impression that all fault is with agency media people. But if I were on that agency side of the equation, I would want to hear any new idea, any new positioning, any new marketing thrust, and instill in all those who call upon the agency side that they have a responsibility to be well prepared. And to be interested, inquisitive, informed and inexhaustible to accomplish what's needed to make a sale.

I truly believe that we need to have changes on both sides of the desk, the agency media person's and ours. It's in that desire that I have written this piece.

Jay Burzon is a veteran of magazine sales and sales management at major consumer magazines. His Coachsultancy, a unit of Howard Sloan Koller Group, New York, specializes in executive search, sales coaching and marketing alliances in the magazine business.

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