NEW YORK – July 5, 2020. “Programmatic buying killed us,” said CEO Jill Jack in an interview the week after she closed down National Spot Sales Representative, Inc. (NSSR), the last remaining independent television and radio national sales representative company.
ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC’s TV station representative divisions and Clear Channel’s Katz Media Group all shut down their operations a year earlier, leaving NSSR struggling with only 5% of all TV and radio inventory sold on a direct, guaranteed basis.
“With so little inventory sold non-programmatically, we couldn’t survive,” Jack said. “There weren’t any buyers left because all the agencies used their own or independent trading desks, so we had to call direct on small- and medium-sized businesses that typically made us call on their Purchasing Departments.”
“Selling used to be fun – calling on buyers, taking them to lunch, plying them with drinks, sneakers, jeans and all sorts of swag. Purchasing Departments don’t take swag. All they want is Big Data and insights. What do my salespeople know about that? It’s no fun,” Jack said wistfully.
I asked Ms. Jack if there was any single event or watershed moment that might have foreshadowed the end of direct media selling. “Sure,” she said, “On June 4, 2014, Ad Age reported that the world’s largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble announced that 70-75% of its digital media wold be bought programmatically. I remember Ad Age’s sub-head on the story: ‘Other Marketers Likely to Follow P&G’s Example.’
“It was like the bottom fell out of direct selling. Up to that point, most digital ad dollars went for direct marketing, not for branding. P&G’s decision opened the floodgates for digital branding dollars. Everybody followed P&G like lemmings, as they always do.”
I asked if agencies weren’t reluctant to fire all of their media buyers. “Hell no,” Jack replied, “they couldn’t wait to automate the digital buying process and turn over buying to software at their trading desks. Media departments are cost centers; trading desks are profit centers. Automating their media buying process saved the agency’s bacon. Made them profitable again.”
I asked Ms. Jack what happened in the upfront market. “The upfront market went programmatic in 2017,” she said. “The big advertisers and their agencies still made deals under the table to allocate prime time and sports inventory and to shut out smaller brands, but the final buying was done on an automated basis. Actually, it was handled by Google.”
I asked if Google still handled the automated buying process even after it bought CBS in 2016. “Yes,” Jack said, “but killing salespeople wasn’t Google’s fault. Google has added a lot of salespeople, who they, like Facebook, call evangelists. Google didn’t kill media salespeople, P&G did. They never liked us calling on them anyway.”