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How to turn ad agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates

How to turn ad agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates
by Bill Boyce – January 2013

If sponsorship salespeople want to turn advertising agencies into advocates, we must understand their needs like any other relationship. How do we do that?

First, understand how an ad agency works. Agencies are divided into three basic functions with whom we interact: account management/client servicing, creative, and media planning & buying.

Second,  understand how the media side is structured. Because account managers and planners are concerned with strategy, they are our best contacts within an agency. Following is a diagram of a typical ad agency media department. The planning (left) is responsible for developing strategy. The buying (right) side is responsible for executing the strategy.

Agency Structure
Agency Structure

Third, understand the language. The following are basic media definitions you should know before going into the meeting or call.

Media Terms

Fourth, always call with a specific client in mind. Agencies do not like general sales calls about their client roster.

Finally, ask the right questions. The following are good questions to supplement your standard needs analysis questions.

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“As we plan our annual marketing calendars, we look across the media mix assessing all the tools.
There are more choices now than ever before. Marketing budgets are ruthlessly analyzed to ensure each dollar is working hard toward the brand’s objectives. A sponsorship’s ROI will be compared to all other ways those marketing dollars could be deployed. Playing up the differences vs other media types or programs and tying sales whenever possible to the sponsorship makes it easier for a marketer to sell the program internally.”

Jody Bilney, EVP, Chief Brands Officer, Bloomin' Brands

Jody Bilney, EVP, Chief Brands Officer, Bloomin’ Brands



  1. “What is the fiscal year for this client?” The objective is to determine when proposals are reviewed and budgets set.
  2. “When is the media planning cycle?” During what months is the media team planning for the fiscal year?
  3. “Does your client include sports in their media plans?” Drill down: Do they plan for sports generally or pick teams? What level of detail does the client provide?
  4. “What is the role of sports sponsorships in the client’s media plan?” When they add sports (sponsorships) to a plan, what do they believe will be the benefit for the client?
  5. “What current sports sponsorships do you utilize?” Which sponsorships are working? What do they like? Not like?
  6. “What are your evaluation criteria?” What is important to you when reviewing a proposal?

If you find yourself talking to someone on the buying (right) side of the diagram, don’t conclude all is lost. Try asking:

  1. “Is sports inventory or sports sponsorship inventory specified in the client’s media plan?” If not, you will need a longer conversation with the media planners. If the answer is yes, then proceed to the next question.
  2. “For the sports spend, what is the target audience for this particular buy?”
  3. “What is the CPM/CPP that they are planning to buy against?”
  4. “Will you consider us for inclusion on the media buy?” Don’t be afraid to be direct: “Are we on the plan?” Ask a few additional questions to confirm intent. If not, ask the next question.
  5. “Why are we not included in the media plan?” This is the opportunity learn and overcome objections.
  6. Close: “We would like for our inventory to be considered for upcoming media buys. What do you suggest as next steps so we can help each other?”

Develop a proposal and pitch as usual. Treat the account manager as your partner to create a customized solution. With knowledge of agencies, their language, personnel, and relevant questions, you can confidently turn agencies into influencers, allies, and advocates. Go for it!