No Salesperson Will Call

So iHeartMedia has bought a company that has developed a platform for programmatic ad buying. I was kind of hoping that if we just let the likes of Facebook and Google fiddle around with a technology that fundamentally misunderstands our medium, the whole idea would crash and burn—similar to when Google bought DMarc, tried the same thing, and shuttered the company two years later.

Or has programmatic advertising’s time come?

When I wear my Web Developer hat, I am immersed in all things digital, and the idea of programmatic advertising is always flitting around the periphery of what I do. This idea touches small market broadcasters mainly through our vendors, who are in large part trying to shift their advertising model to programmatic, and “encouraging” (in some cases forcing) their affiliates or clients to do the same.

I should be embracing this as a more convenient way for advertisers to buy our medium, but I can’t shake the little voice inside my head (it usually sounds like Jim Williams, but sometimes it sounds like Chris Lytle) that whispers, “A sales call isn’t a sales call unless it is made in person.”

But I will be the first to admit that modern communications technology has reduced the need for every interaction to be in person. Time-pressed advertisers appreciate emails and phone calls—and even faxes sometimes—as a more efficient way for us to communicate the bits and pieces of the relationship. However, the effectiveness of these alternative forms of communication rely on a solid in-person relationship.

Having said that, a couple of exceptions come to mind. First, there was a fellow who did sales for a Virginia radio station who almost never met his clients in person. He was a master at establishing relationships and making sales using the telephone. He had great rapport with his clients; his client service was exceptional; and as a result, he was able to manage an obscene number of big-dollar clients.

The second example is my own situation. Through the years of editing and publishing this newsletter, I’ve gotten to know both readers and advertisers on a personal level, and count many of them as close friends—even though I’ve never met them in person.

Still and all, even these exceptions underscore the need for a personal relationship to have been established at some time, in some way. How else are we to understand what the client is trying to accomplish and craft the best solution?

What programmatic buying tells us is that none of that matters—that the client is an advertising expert who needs no help in selecting the most resultful schedule.

Having sold radio time to local clients and professional ad buyers alike, I can tell you what you already know: Even the pros aren’t going to get the best results unless they understand the station they are buying. The real pros take the time to chat with local media reps about what’s going on in the market, what the media landscape looks like, and what advertising and promotional opportunities are in the offing.

But the advertising business is, always has been, and probably always will be a chain-reaction loop usually based on a fallacious premise. Bad ideas get pushed down from the top, and the time-buyers have no choice but to fall in line. I will wager that programmatic buying is the darling of everybody in the advertising business except the conscientious buyer.

I’d love to hear your experiences with programmatic buying, your relationships with ad buyers these days, and so on. I’d appreciate a quick note to

Am I crazy, or is the soul of a radio station worth a real client conversation now and then?