Always get all of the avails and intel before making any buying decisions.
“Avails” is an industry term that means available media time. Don’t be swayed by a station or network rep with a great opportunity that seems like a slam dunk. Before you can compare and contrast, you need to learn about the current marketplace. Maybe the NBC station’s offer is great, or maybe it just so happens that NBC is weaker than the CW right now in the market you’re buying. Until you see ALL the prices and talk with all of the reps, you’re not going to know the unique situation you’re facing. Some stations, despite being part of a weaker network, still dominate their market, while others that seem to be riding the wave of network success, may be lagging far behind locally. Direct Response advertising is based on supply and demand, so if advertisers are paying what seems like an exorbitant rate, they’re likely getting a good response to justify it, and vice versa. For example, a few years ago I was buying Providence for a client. The ABC affiliate had very reasonable rates while the NBC affiliate’s rates were 600% higher. And at the time, ABC was a much stronger network. I eventually bought both and NBC provided greater value. Put it this way. If you pay $50 and get 0 calls or you pay $500 and get 10 calls, which do you think is better? Scope it out first, test as much as budget permits, and listen to what the stations are saying. If you’re buying nationally, the same logic applies. Compare networks with similar reach and audience, talk to the reps and ask them what makes their network a better buy than their competitors.
Everything is negotiable…to a point.
Media may not be eager to admit this, but most rate cards feature pricing that is 2-3 times the actual going rate. They’re often very optimistic about their audience when they print them, I suppose. So always negotiate. You can take two paths – lower rates or “bonus weight.” That’s additional commercials thrown in at a lower price or no charge. Most stations prefer giving bonus weight to keep their prime rates healthy. Ask where they have a lot of open inventory. Be reasonable. Say, “How about I buy some of these high priced prime spots and you bonus me a bunch of spots where you’re soft.” This is why having the ability to air 24/7 is crucial. If you need to get 50 calls for every $1,000 spent, you’re going to need bonus weight overnight, early morning or in access, to help bring in the buy. If you’re working with a good media rep, they’ll understand that and work with you. Make sure they know you can spend liberally if they can help ensure success with extra media. Produce a 10- or 15-second commercial. This may allow for additional bonus weight. If the station or network is oversold and advertisers are trying to climb in through the windows, there can be no negotiating. That’s what I meant by “to a point.” Unless you have a campaign that is on fire and can generate more response and profit than anything else out there, those are the stations/networks to avoid. Find the #2 or #3 station and work out a deal with them. They’ll be hungry and eager to take your business and you can grow together. Develop and cultivate those relationships. A good station/network rep who cares about your business, and who knows you care about their billing too, can be worth their weight in gold. They know what’s working for clients and where the hidden opportunities lie. Sure, the negotiating bullies get a good rate, but they don’t get the special opportunities because reps want to give those to advertisers they like, as long as you pay your bills promptly.
Don’t pay a preempt rate.
Whether you’re buying short-form (spots) or long-form (infomercials), most media outlets will allow you to “knock out” other advertisers by paying a higher rate. Let’s say they’re sold out at $100. They’ll gladly quote you $200 and you may still think it’s a “deal.” Beware. There’s a reason they’re sold out at $100! Always ask, are these preempt rates? If it is, this tells you two things: 1) you’re likely paying too much, and 2) the rate is now non-negotiable. You’ll be lucky if you can get a $150 rate, but in my opinion you’re still paying $50 too much. I always say that I’d rather get a great rate that doesn’t get 100% clearance (my entire budget won’t air because I’ll be the one getting preempted) but generates a profit for my client when it airs. What’s the use of paying more if you’re losing money every time it airs? Make that clear to your rep. “I don’t need to get 100% clearance, but I DO need a rate that will work for my client.” Aside from great creative, the second most important factor in a DR campaign’s success, whether on television or online, is rate. If you’re doing all the preempting and not getting preempted, you’re paying too much. If your entire budget is airing without preemptions, you’ve got room to negotiate. Keep lowering the rate until you start getting preempted and then find a clearance level that is still profitable for you or your client. You may need to book 30% more budget with the understanding that you’ll suffer 30% in preemptions. And keep finding more good media so you can keep your rates competitive across the board.
Timing is everything.
Knowing the time of the year, where you are in the current quarter, and the sellout climate, is paramount in crafting a successful media buy. Having sold media at the station level for many years, I know how buying media affects the paychecks, and the careers, of the reps with whom I’m working. At the beginning of the quarter, for example, they have more inventory available but are less eager to give away a deal. They’ve got an entire quarter to hit their budget. Towards the end of the quarter, if they’ve got inventory, they may be willing to sell their souls on the rate in order to make budget or get their bonus. Sure, they may tell you things are tight due to the end of the quarter. The reality is that they may very likely be more open than ever to listening if you’ve got some good ideas to increase their billing. I once used this timing to my advantage to acquire a half-hour infomercial at 7pm on a Tuesday night on WNBC in NYC. They had never before aired an infomercial at 7pm on a weeknight coming out of the national news, and they’ve never done it since. In fact, I recently discovered that there’s a long report about this incident on Wikipedia. For the record, I didn’t pay even close to the rate that WCBS quoted as the time’s value in the NY Post the next day. When I presented this opportunity to my client, they really wanted to air there so I made it my goal to help them make history. I knew we were coming to the end of a soft quarter, so I told the Local Sales Manager that I knew of a way that he could make budget and beyond at the 11thhour. I’d been working with WNBC, and other stations in the market, for years, and had cultivated very strong relationships. They didn’t want to see me take this offer elsewhere. After almost two weeks of negotiating, they opened up that half-hour just for us, preempting regular programming, and our client received so many inbound calls that their phone system crashed after the first 10 minutes. For weeks afterwards, people in the largest TV market in the country were still talking about our show. So, if you ARE going to preempt, make sure it’s for a unique opportunity.
And as I always say, this is a guide. When buying DRTV, you can sometimes operate outside these parameters for the right opportunity in the right climate. Be creative and persistent in your approach and good things will happen.
About the author:
Considered one of advertising’s most respected and imaginative broadcast media buyers and campaign managers, Matthew Goldreich has a 20+ year track record of direct response marketing success.
An expert in television and radio infomercial and short-form marketing, Matt has created and produced winning campaigns for the mortgage, auto, insurance, hair restoration, and a multitude of other industries.
Founder of his own successful full-service, direct-response television advertising agency and production company, Matt’s broadcast employment includes NBC and Pax (ION) Television. He has written, produced, and directed dozens of infomercials as well as hundreds of successful short-form, direct-response ads.