Industry Nonsense

Cocky Mania Media – Has billboard media buying in the USA become perverted?


You read that right. Cocky-mania– (I didn’t mean “cockamamie” literally, yet the same gist). Meaning- Outdoor media buyers are getting cocky, and that is cockamamie.

Whats going on now in buying or trying to rent billboards?

Well, for those of you who have not owned a billboard company, with like 1-20 boards in the USA, you probably are not aware of this trend. And if you have not been a media buyer in the US for a reasonable amount of time buying outdoor billboards, you may be unaware of the cocky mania media phenomena, too.

What in the world am I talking about? First I’m going to set the stage of how billboard owners want to rent out there space and how media buyers go about buying that billboard space- OUTSIDE THE USA. Yes, life outside the USA exists and yes, they know how to conduct business as well.  Then once you see contrast, you will get the cocky mania media phenomena, CiMM bro! Lets coin this phrase now, pronounced “SihMM”. “Don’t CiMM me bro.”

How its done internationally.

As an Intl. ad agency focusing on outdoor, we see the business practices of the billboard plants and various forms of agents. From Japan to China, to Thailand to Hong Kong and Macau, to Indonesia to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, billboard owners, either a single owner with a rooftop or wall, to the mid sized plant with 10-30 faces…he wants to move his space! Either directly to the brand or to an agency whose buying and planning for that client. Move ad space, make money, give a cut to agent that did the work, 10-15%, everyone’s happy. Only the A+ roof billboard owners in Hong Kong have true cocky cherry picking rights to whom  they want to sell their perm rooftop sign to, as the demand is off the charts in that city for A+ media. Want something A+ awesome? Get in line and be ready to wine and dine! Point being, let the agents have the info, let them show clients and let them try to sell it. Does that there not make any ‘business sense’?  For one specific RFP or a few different clients, now or later. Isn’t the name of the game selling and making money here? You know, capitalistic profit kinda thing? Sell to the highest bidder perhaps? Whatever the moment requires in making money and keeping the business afloat. Its called ‘business sense’ or just common sense. But it seems to me common sense is becoming no so common in the US billboard arena. I know there will be exceptions though.

The attitude of billboard plants in the US now.

So whats going on here? Well it seems to be common that the plant owners are very possessive of who markets their ad space. Meaning they want to know whose showing it to brands or agencies. A typical small plant is marketing it in-house and / or they have some agreement with a connected hot shot in the billboard business, so this plant will usually have the ‘exclusive sales rep’ pushing his boards, and nobody else is allowed to do so! Why? well for one, the sales rep wants to be the hot shot with his boards and says “I’m the man you gotta go through with this here board, so you gotta call me sonny”. Secondly, the exclusive rep here doesn’t want to do too much work for nothing if another competing sales guy ends up renting it out before him. (competition, we cant have that now can we?) So far we have the sales rep who wants to be the go-to-man for a bunch of boards, of which he’s pitching movie studios, car companies, soft drinks, airlines, Madison avenue and whatever else hes got in his MadMen Rolodex. The billboard plant is probably praying this exclusive sales rep is as connected as he pitched himself to be and second, as suave as a salesmen as well. The plant can’t have 10 sales guys pitching to all the fortune 1000 now, hes limited to the one sales reps’ Rolodex.

And we all know Mr. hot shot cant possibly have a phone, name and email of every company in America or internationally now can he? Hes got limits. He’s what Id call a “depth salesmAn”, meaning his sales ability is as deep as his contact list. Whereas if the billboard plant had hired 10 sales reps, in-house or otherwise, he would have have the the depth of 10 sales guys and the breadth of them all. Lets call that strategy “Breadth salesmEn”. The reach is now horizontal plus vertical, not just vertical. Tell me which one is better business sense? 1 hot shot or 10 non exclusive sales reps or agents with wide reach and different ability? If you are outside the USA, its an easy answer. If you are in the USA, its a loaded answer. Because that now leads us to another cocky mania layer of our industry, – those media buyers, big agencies, big brands, including the in house folks who shop around…. the people who the billboard sales reps need to pitch. {The above is talking about the small underdogs who own few signs not the mid to big sized ones who have in house sales}

Why do media buyers ‘get confused’?

Lets say you had a big house. And you wanted to sell it, soon. Lets say the MLS was non existent. What would you do? Put a sign in front saying for sale? Hire a broker? Put an ad in the paper? All of the former perhaps? Hire 5 brokers with a non-exclusive, plus do the ads and sign? If time is not on your side you want the biggest reach[ meaning breadth strategy] to find buyers, quick. Let all who come get the chance to wet their beak. But there’s a snag, the brokers want a mono-sales agreement. That could spell a long wait if you know what I mean. Your reach to potential buyers gets capped when the number of reps is just one and not 20!

Are small underdog billboard plants  under a mysterious spell of pressure on how they may go about selling ad spaces?

Billboard owners are having to conform to a standard where, you don’t want to find yourself in a situation where a media buyer at a movie studio sees your billboard from 2 or more sales representatives. These plants loose out or have issues if they don’t do things a ‘certain way’. This apparently, ‘confuses’ buyers as to ‘who has the right to sell it’ and is a taboo.  My oh my, what is the media buyer to do now? Its evident media buyers want to know the real price (meaning the lowest price), which also means finding the source and /or owner of the ad space, to hence CUT OUT PEOPLE IN THE MIDDLE AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. Translated in English as “Lets get a lower price cutting out agencies, 3rd and 4th party sales reps, other sales reps or anyone else out there trying to make money being an ‘agent’. Translated into modern media English as:  no respect for the Agency Commission / Sales Commission and such.

In man on the street-lish, ‘cut throat’.

What does CMM sound like if it spoke ?

“Whose the real sales person of this/these billboards we are eyeing? My goodness, why would more than one sales person exist in trying to sell these billboards?! How could the plant be so uncivilized with business etiquette confusing us with different reps, media kits and oh my gosh!… different prices in some cases! This now questions the integrity of the board owner. Those dis-cordial scoundrels. He’s trying in to many ways to sell his space! My oh my, this is just non conforming to how we do our job trying to buy space, we cant have competing sellers of ad space! No no no. That’s not how we like to see things when we shop. We are only supposed to have to ask ONE sales person when we buy and get any reps or even those darn agents, out of the way…”


Imagine that, different kits, different prices, one higher, one lower, different phone numbers for different people trying to sell some ad space. Gosh, media-buyer-problems. Imagine that, same billboard, 7 media kits, 7 different prices. Competition is some sort of sin. If I have 7 car dealership reps at my door all quoting me different prices for the new BMW 5 series being proposed to me— same car, what do I do ? Do I complain the BMW company is in discord because of all the car dealerships around the freaking state are ‘confusing me’? Or how dare some of them NOT charge a uniform price, have the same brochure, and some have lower prices (sale)? How dare they not be ALL CONSISTENT? I mean, I’m important! These product sellers need to conform to me and my company’s  internal rules and stuff. Meaning sell to us the way we want to be sold to following our dictates, and don’t compete for our business, its ‘confusing’ ya know.

If the dealer sells the car he makes a cut and so does his sales guy. Incentive for all. Now if we all walk into a dealership and go strait for the manager or higher ups and buy strait through them to cut out sales guys and get a cut of that commission in our favor is that right? Now is that right IF you at first met the sales guy and he actually showed you a car and told you about it, or went for a test drive? If you buy the sales guy should get his cut.

People with real business sense let all dealers get pitted against each other for the best price, fast delivery and the most embellishments! Freaking duh. May the ad buyers go back to basics by choosing the best price with the guys you have the best relationship with. Simple and fair enough. Don’t  cut the throat bite the hand that offers you billboards. You must respect the worlds sales people, agents and middle men. They allow more products and services to get to market!

Why cant big brands and agencies just get over this ‘exclusivity’ stuff, and this ‘one must go to point of sale source’- and chill out. Let the market work, a free market, yeah ya know, that’s what makes capitalism work. Allow outdoor sign owners to employ all means possible so they stay alive in the cut throat and over regulated US market.

Cutting out sales people, agents and other brokers is not always strategic. Imagine going through the bother of buying all your food strait from the farms, every non perishable product from your supermarket direct from the manufacturers and factories, go to Japan and meet Toyota in person to order your car, ah, and bring Yen and a person who speaks Japanese with you. Be prepared for those minimum order numbers! Oh and bring your own trucks and transport too since you hate those pesky middle guys! When you cut agents out of the media business, you loose another set of eyes in the industry, if you treat him good, hes going to call you first and get you the best hook ups on something new or special that came across his desk. In this business you get what you pay for weather you see it or not, now or later. Don’t be a cheap asshole.

For some years now, billboard firms now quote prices as NET. This poses a problem to disallow most 3rd party sales reps, agents, or any kind of media broker from making money and being rewarded for their sales effort. Because if the potential buyer finds out the board plant, they have a strong incentive to cut around him and save 10-15%. You can bet your wet beak this happens allot now. The agent or sales rep better have a very very honest and trustworthy client before he shows that Powerpoint which also displays the name of the billboard plant in those photos. Most boards have the name on the skirt (this is generally not a good thing for ind sales reps or brokers because in all the photos the source is shown). That rep better learn Photoshop! Bottom line is, trying to sell boards in the US is a pain. Your throat can get cut so many ways, why bother.

When will the exodus happen?

If sales reps, certain ad agents and other media broker types are pushed into a corner where they have no to little skin in the game, and cant wet their beak, they will move to other careers, different professions in or out of our industry, go bankrupt and start over–whatever. They will simply go to greener pastures, (cough*Asia*cough).  Sovereign Ad’s door is always open for pro sales people. And we might as well say it here and now- any pro who wants to sell and rep outdoor, globally, can with us. Get this, work with us, you can sell and rep any of the media worldwide we have access to, from anywhere you are located, anytime you want to, to whomever you want to pitch it to! You get to keep 50% of the spoils. Hows that for putting the spoils where our mouth is? Its commission only and not for the faint of heart.

Competing forces are good for people on the buying side of things.(Oh you forgot that in economics class did you? Oh, OK here’s a hall pass to the Deans). Give small billboard companies a freaking break! Do you have any idea how hard, how expensive it is now to acquire a sign permit? To buy one even? Or buy a permit and  a billboard? The ROI is YEARS!! NO NEW PERMITS from scratch allowed in the USA. The market is cornered.(+1) Plant owners cannot expand, meaning they are market capped. This guy in LA operated some signs with no permits and the DA put his but in jail! Unless they buy others out. How would you like your ad agency market capped by city hall? How about your coffee shop only allowed to sell 100 cups of coffee per day with a max of 3 shops?How about your movie studio capped to 9  movies only per year?  And the only way you could make more movies (or sell more coffee) is buy another movie production company who has their own cap, then you can add their cap to your cap, then you’re “movin on up“. How about your food product capped at only x number of product packages per year that can be produced in a year regardless of demand domestically and internationally? How about capping how much your utility feeds you of water and power? Wherever competition is hindered, you better know dame well, the monopoly-men are in town.

Don’t CiMM me bro…

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