MMi's Top 5 Things You Can Do Right Now

This is Part 2 of our posts on Media Accountability during the COVID-19 epidemic.  Read Part 1 here.

A “new normal” is here – and you, your agency, and your media partner staffs are all working from home.  Your media buys have been delayed, canceled, or perhaps repurposed or even expanded depending on the situation.  If you followed our earlier recommendations, your media plans have been re-stated, business continuity confirmed with your agency and partners, and your buy and deal documentation continue to be updated per all COVID-related schedule adjustments.  Hopefully, now you are looking forward a bit.    

It’s always crucial that every working media dollar be as productive as possible, but that’s particularly true now.  COVID-19 is context for this time period, but it cannot be an excuse.  As you look ahead to the next few months, here is a list of areas to consider in order to maintain or improve productivity and accountability in your media supply chain.

1. Establish priorities and gain alignment with regards to Sports budgets - and other pre-empted and delayed programming.  Live major league sports are a tentpole of so many media plans and one of the best available opportunities for reach and engagement.  It’s why you are willing to pay so much for those partnerships, and why your competitors are as well.  While ticket sales may be slower to recover, industry experts agree TV viewing will return immediately once play resumes.  However, as of the first week of April, this timing is still an unknown.  This lack of content is going to be a dynamic in Primetime and other dayparts in the coming months as well due to current production delays.  Go ahead and get your bearings, and solicit agreement on priorities and milestone dates.

  • Reality Check:  Sellers’ priority is going to be to retain this revenue whenever possible.  How does this align with your organization and your brand(s)’ priorities, and what contingencies should you consider?  What are possible go/no go dates for the various leagues (i.e. NBA/NHL playoffs, MLB regular season, etc.) and how do these align with your evolving marketing plans at any given point?
  • Employ scenario planning to inform decisions.  Consider the relevant risks/benefits of all your options.
  1. Use budgets now and re-express inventory.
  2. Hold budgets indefinitely for the seasons to start or until determinations are made about post-season playoffs
  3. Hold budgets for now and create milestone dates or if/then decisions (e.g. game counts, timing of new playoffs relative to your sales seasonality).  
  4. Take budgets back to your organization’s bottom line and re-assess later.  
  5. Other?  One large U.S. adult beverage marketer recently made a PR splash when it announced it would donate its sports and entertainment sponsorship money to COVID-19 relief efforts.

     Note:  MMi clients are taking a range of these approaches.

  • Quantify the value of each property to your organization.  Evaluate, understand, and communicate the relative impact on your sales.  If you no longer need it, and if you can get out of it, don’t be sentimental.
  • Quantify the impact of the elimination of each property to your organization (complements the above).  Hopefully you assessed some of this in March when March Madness and NBA went dark.  Maybe there are some partnerships that are less productive than others for your brand.  (And see point #2 below).  
  • “But the competition…”  We know the properties play this card during negotiation, and we know you fight hard for exclusivity.  At MMi, we realize shutting out the competition is often a huge driver of media strategies.  Take an objective view, as always, as to how this benefits your organization versus allocating resources elsewhere or maintaining financial flexibility in an uncertain time.
  • If your priority is the content/property, no matter when it ends up on-air, be aware of the impact of moving budget targets.  Some organizations can handle this and some cannot.  A delayed MLB season and playoffs might overlap more weeks with the NFL, for example.  For Olympics partners, the year delay for the Summer games puts the media spend within six months of the next Winter games.  
  • Related to the above, if you have a long-term contract, there are still some things you can assess and re-negotiate within the overall spend commitment.  Evaluate the media marketplace and the on-premise and ancillary components of the agreement to make sure they meet your organization’s needs in this particular season.

2. Look for opportunities to re-set pricing.  Both the supply side and the demand side of media have shown some seismic shifts over the past month.  Studies are showing increased viewing in News and other linear TV dayparts – not to mention streaming and connected video – as well as increased engagement in Digital.  Conversely, ad sales projections are decreased in many channels as Advertisers delay or cancel paid media based on current and anticipated future business conditions.  Consider:

  • Softening of local TV markets, particularly given Olympics postponement to 2021 and in states without a major political contest for the general election window.  
  • Local TV market conditions where reductions or cancelations and re-negotiation later may provide an advertiser benefit.  (Note industry research generally suggests that going completely dark is detrimental to brand health measures.)
  • Softening of the National TV Upfront marketplace, as advertisers seek increased financial flexibility, content remains uncertain, and consumer viewing patterns continue to evolve.
  • Evolving strategies for Upfront National TV participation.  Remember, the National TV Upfront is not an all-or-nothing participation proposition.  It should be an annual strategy discussion between you and your agency – this year more than ever.  Participate in those areas key for your brand’s health or where Scatter premiums are likely to be high.  Explore second-tier partners or dayparts with whom you might be able to re-set baseline CPMs by opting out of Upfront commitments this year.
  • Impact of re-expressed versus canceled Sports budgets on other dayparts (i.e. audience shifts, supply and demand, etc.).
  • Negotiating leverage brought by relative success of alternate media channels tested or used during the crisis.

3. Take the opportunity to recoup prior shortfalls.  You are owed audience restitution recovery from prior broadcast buys and guarantee periods.  It’s the nature of these media channels and the way that commercials are transacted, and it’s also a large reason MMi has been in business 25 years.  (MMi clients typically see 3-5% dollar value shortfall, and these are advertisers measuring accountability on an ongoing basis.)  If you paid for commercials last year or last quarter and are owed audiences, now is a great time to make those deals whole.

  • Ensure you have appropriate messaging available.  (It is in general a best practice to have “evergreen” commercials on hand to best manage TV and Radio under delivery restitution as well as partner opportunistic offerings.)
  • In Local TV, the TVB is making inventory available for Ad Council messages, and some stations are supporting long-term advertising partners with free spots.  If you paid for spots last year and are owed audiences, now is a good time to be at the front of that line.
  • In National TV, consider alternative restitution packages at ownership group levels that make sense for current viewing.  In other words, could you recover impressions from a cable entertainment buy with a news package, or would you accept an online video package in lieu of linear TV impressions?  Will you accept restitution for Sports deals in other forms rather than carrying balances over for two years?
  • If you cannot advertise right now or are on extended hiatus from broadcast media, make sure your agency is securing agreement letters from the networks/stations to protect your “pre-paid expense” and ensure fulfillment at a later date (i.e. include extended recovery terms).

4. Reinforce the importance of delivery of media buys (a.k.a. business-as-usual “posting”).  Best practices require this via the agency contract and/or channel-specific buying guidelines.  Chaos, currently in the form of COVID-19, is what separates the standard from the excellent media agency buying teams.  

  • Proper stewardship of buys on air, and reconciliation of buys just ended, are as important as negotiation of future buys to the success of your brand’s communication plan.
  • Make sure your agency and media property partners continue proper staffing on your behalf, and inquire often about any furloughs or changes beyond your primary daily contacts.
  • Understanding the impact of every media dollar is crucial in times of change and flux.  Even if you carefully re-planned, re-negotiated, re-estimated, the job is not complete until you actively steward and actualize.
  • Despite the disruption, it could in fact be in the advertiser’s favor that agency executives and salespeople are not currently on the road during this challenging time.  Your schedules could receive a higher level of oversight than they might otherwise.

5. Take stock and merchandise your media supply chain best practices internally.  It is even more likely after this COVID-19 event that you will be fighting for advertising budgets as the marketplace and economy rebound.  For stay-the-course advertisers, there will be much analysis around prior year budgets with or without Sports or Olympics deals as benchmarks.  Or perhaps your organization found innovative or more efficient ways to spend marketing dollars and will be discussing those as longer-term strategic shifts.  In any event, the more you can demonstrate control of every dollar of the media supply chain you oversee, the better.  Times of crisis typically reveal weak points, so apply that learning and share it.  Best practices include the following documents.

  • Agency contract that protects the brand and includes business continuity assurance as well media performance KPIs.
  • Buying guidelines per media channel that tie to media performance KPIs and provide direction beyond budget and audience goals.  Apply any learning from this season to your control documents for.
  • Media Property contracts tied to the above as well as all deal points agreed to on behalf of the advertiser – updated for every negotiated adjustment to reflect final spend and deal points.
  • Performance Measurement and Accountability.  Ensure timely reporting and feedback loops in addition to meeting/exceeding contractual, buying guideline, and media property obligations.

These absolutely are tough times, and they offer significant additional disruption on top of ongoing media marketplace evolution.  As author John C. Maxwell says, “Change is inevitable, Growth is optional.”  Let’s emerge smarter and stronger.  MMi is here to help.  For more ideas on how to navigate these times or on creating an accountable media supply chain every day, please reach out to your primary MMi contact or click here.

Want to take action on this article?  Here’s a recap:

  1. Ask your agency’s POV on Sports priorities, Pricing re-set opportunities, and Recovery of aging UD/ADU balances.  
  2. Ensure your agency contractual requirements include media buy delivery (in addition to purchase) and that your supply chain maintains best practice control documentation.

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