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  One Buyer's Opinion:
      by Paula Hendricks for Television/Radio Age magazine, July 22,1974.

Don't let computers replace people

The function of buying/selling has changed dramatically over the past several years. The "professionals" have less chance to utilize their skills. The number of professionals is dwindling. There seems to be several reasons for this: a) misunderstanding of computer capabilities, b) emergence of "rep boutiques", and c) the decline of training programs. These areas of overlap considerably, but, each has its own effect.

Computers are either the best or the worst thing to ever hit advertising-depending on who's talking. In terms of bookkeeping functions the computer is a godsend. But when applied to buying it is often misused. Computers enable a buyer to make a thorough analysis of a market/ buy/avails/bills- but only with numbers. Too often a buyer is forced to buy the number only, especially when the post-analysis becomes the sole criterion of excellence. Carried to the extreme, this means each buyer tries to outguess the rating service rather than trying to buy the most effective schedule for a brand. Specials, sponsorships, environment, live announcements, local talent identification are also important. Obviously, for each brand/client there are priorities-and numbers may very well be primary. But a buyer must not lose sight of those factors that are as hard to measure as those above.

Computers are also fast. Consequently many people in agency management erroneously assume they will shorten the buying/selling process and that fewer people are needed to do a professional job. This overlooks one vital fact. With more and more information available we need more buyers and sellers who are expert at interpreting the output. This does not necessarily mean fewer buyers. Unfortunately, many buyers have more information and less time to digest it.

Rep firms meanwhile are trying to specialize by forming "boutiques". In theory, a few good salespeople concentrating on a few markets are more effective than representing many stations. This is fine, in theory. Realistically, this is true only part of the time. There are a few good rep boutiques, but they have drained the other firms of their strong salespeople. This leaves quite a vacuum. This trend will enlarge the sales force, which means fewer experienced sales people in important markets and more contacts for each buyer. Each salesperson will have less of a buyer's time and, therefore, less chance to sell his station. If the trends in buying continue to put emphasis on bottom line cpm's and post-analyses the new reps tend to become messengers with non-creative sell. The interplay of buyer/seller must be maintained.

A third factor at work is the scarcity of training programs. Several large agencies have eliminated buyer training altogether. Several years ago both new buyers and new salespeople received input and experience from both sides, agency and rep. Now everyone is assumed to be "professional" without any background.

But a few hopeful signs are apparent. A few rep firms are considering or have implemented training programs. The point is to familiarize the future reps with the working of station/rep research/agency before they start selling. These programs will work only if time and energy are put into them, and this from agency as well as rep.

Buyers and sellers must maintain an ongoing exchange of information and interpretation. Numbers alone- whether audiences or sales figures-are not enough when putting together a media plan. The client suffers if the numbers are believed to "tell all". We are the experts and should not fall into the trap of using numbers to prove all media ideas and buys. It is to be hoped we will not get to a computer-controlled buying-selling relationship. We need salesmen, not messengers.

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