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Vision Media Overview – An Interview on Media Buying, Ad Sales and Advertising Negotiation


Phil: This is Phil Dunn with Synapse Services and we’re talking with Steve Reed of Vision Media today. Welcome Steve.

Steve: Thanks Phil, good to be here.

Phil: So Vision Media has been helping large and small businesses buy media for quite a while– how many years?

Steve: the company’s been in existence for the last 10 years, we’ll celebrate our ten year anniversary in July.

Phil: Fantastic, fantastic. In the marketing world we talk a lot about value propositions. What would you say is your high level ten second value prop?

Steve: The feedback we get from most of our clients is that they get service and strategy that is far better than what they find from more traditional agencies that are a lot of times even larger. So while we do save our clients significant dollars on their media — typically 20 to 30 percent on their media — the feedback we get is that we’re able to turn things around more quickly, so we’re more nimble.

Steve: I think the number one thing we always try to provide to our client is objectives, feedback — and in planning strategy. What we find with a lot of clients is that they have core competencies in the businesses that they run, and they know their industries very well, but sometimes they get just enough information that got to be dangerous when it comes to being in the media world, and so we try to take our experience over the years and give them objective strategy that is going to help them drive sales or drive their brand. And then as far as if we’re dealing with some of our larger companies that have more seasoned media professionals, you know we really get a lot of feedback as far as the kind of cost savings that we deliver number one, and then number two, we’re really able to deliver a lot better service to these clients than they’re used to. And more simply because we’re a smaller company. You know there’s five of us here, but when they’re working with us they’re getting experience that they simply don’t get from the larger shops. We don’t, you know, we aren’t employing people right out college. They’re not dealing with assistant media buyers or assistant planners or media supervisors. They’re always dealing with a principal within the company in getting hands on experience of someone or another team member with you know 15, 20, 20 plus years experience in the media industry.

Phil: Nice, nice, that’s great. Yeah I was gonna ask about that next. It really is a big difference when a company doesn’t get handed off to that junior executive or that junior account person.

Steve: Yeah, I mean what we really, what we’re starting to see is that there’s these clients in the industry that really have no home because they’re not big enough to get the big attention of the larger shops and some of these advertising agencies are great advertising agencies but the budgets that they have just doesn’t get them to kind of service and attention that they deserve and that they need so when they’re being pitched by these larger agencies you know, they’re being promised the moon and everything’s great and you’ve got the VP of Media there and things are wonderful but when the account actually comes over to the ad agency those people are long gone. Because you’re handed down to someone who’s cutting their teeth typically you know this is a little bit of a generalization but typically you’re handed down to someone who’s cutting their teeth in the media industry and they’re given a cost per point goal or they’re given specific target goals that they need to reach and that’s how they’re evaluated on whether or not they’re doing their job. And with us, you know, we’re evaluated every day whether you’re one of the Fortune 500 companies that we work with or you’re a local mortgage company in Seattle, we’re evaluated every day on are we reaching the goals of our clients, are we driving business to those clients, are we saving them 20 to 30% on their media, you know, are they getting compelling new ideas that are putting them ahead of their competition? That’s how we’re evaluated so we can’t just hand the business of to a you know, a 25 year old media buyer and say hey, go out and make this work for our client. You know you’re involved every single day with a principal at the agency.

Phil: That makes a ton of sense. And lets’ talk about some of your clients. Is there a particular profile or you’ve mentioned that sweet spot where they’re not quite on the radar for Madison Avenue or the larger companies that are media buying. What are some of your high profile clients and how do they kind of fit into your wheelhouse?

Steve: Well, that’s one of the interesting things about our company is we’ve had the luxury of working with really really strong brands and well-known brands. Everything from T-Mobile to AT&T to companies like Zipfizz, Supercuts, and with some of these companies we are the agency of record but then with others, we do work on a project basis primarily for some of the reasons that I outlined earlier in our interview and that is we’re able to move so quickly on things that they like the way that our organization is flat and nimble. We’re not a typical advertising agency where projects take you know 30 days to develop and in order for us to put something together it’s got to go through the media supervisor and the planner and the media buyer and then the assistant buyer. We’re very flat. There’s five of us here and everybody is extremely well educated and well versed in the media industry and so we really find that we’re able to deliver a lot more than the competition.

Phil: Right. You mentioned earlier that some of your clients they kind of know enough to be dangerous. Are there things that they learn from dealing with you that they’re surprised to discover because they’re not on the front lines every day?

Steve: Yeah, on the smaller end of the scale, I think that is pretty accurate. I think what they don’t realize, and we have a number of clients that we work with that prior to us getting involved, really thought they were getting a great deal on…let’s just use hypothetically cable advertising. What they really find out is that the media sales folks that are out there selling their wares, whether it’s radio, television, newspaper, digital, they all have one objective. And that is to sell their solution to potential advertisers in order for them to be paid, and to be able to pay their bills. In some cases, they may be selling a solution that’s perfect for a client, but in many cases, they’re selling a solution that isn’t anywhere near perfect for the client, but they need to sell that solution whether or not it’s to you or to another advertiser. It doesn’t matter. They’ve got to be out there selling what they have to offer. With us, we try to basically present it that we’re an independent set of eyes that can look at opportunities and be able to objectively tell our clients whether or not something makes strategic sense. Whether it makes financial sense. A lot of times whether or not they’re getting a great deal.

A lot of these people end up having relationships with these media buyers or media sellers, whether it’s the cable industry or newspaper or what have you. They develop friendships, and they kind of get emotionally involved in something that is often times a very straightforward numbers oriented business.

I’d say that people realize that they can get a much better deal than they’re getting. One of the advantages that we have is myself and some of the other folks in the office have worked on the other side of the desk. We’ve managed radio stations. We’ve sold newspaper. We’ve been involved in Internet media sales. We know what to ask for.

This is a long answer to your question, but I think one of the biggest things is that people that are buying media for their companies, or putting together media strategies for their companies don’t know the buttons to press in order to get everything they could for their dollar. Whether that’s an advantageous radio rate. Whether that’s added value impressions in digital media. Whether that’s added value newspaper ads, or added value cable placements in positions that otherwise would have gone unsold, we find that people come back and say, “Gosh, I can’t believe you got us xyz rate.” Or “I can’t believe you were able to deliver that many more spots for the same amount of dollars.” We’re obviously a little bit biased. We think we do it better than everybody else. It isn’t necessarily that we’re hiding any secrets. It’s just that we’ve been in that business, and we know what to ask for.

Phil: Right. Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. In terms of negotiating leverage, since you are kind of in a hub position where you can look at a lot of different options, do you have more flexibility than somebody who’s more entrenched like those sales reps you mentioned that have dedicated relationships with certain media outlets?

Steve: The sales reps are typically usually selling directly from the newspaper outlets or from the radio stations or television stations. I think our advantage is that we can look at any of the offerings objectively. One of the greatest challenges that small business owners and business owners and VPs of marketing in larger corporations face is that they get sold by media reps on particular offerings.

It’s not so much that the media folks are underhanded in any way, but they’re able to present information in ways that obviously slants data and slant their story toward their media solution being the solution for that client. So what we really try to highlight- is let Vision Media be your objective source to be able to tell you how to reach your target.

We don’t have any vested interest in whether or not we advertise in the New York Times or USA Today. We don’t have a vested interest in whether or not we do endorsement radio on news talk radio stations or whether we do a sponsorship of an adult contemporary radio station. It doesn’t matter to us.

So we’re able to look at data objectively, independently and be able to say, “Based on this price, based on the target you’re trying to hit, this solution makes sense. Yeah, let’s go with a solution like that.” Or we’re able to say, “You know what? That solution’s interesting but it’s priced really high” or “That solution’s interesting and it hits your target demographic of adults 25 to 54 but it’s really lopsided on the 35 to 54 end which is a little bit older than you might like to be.”

Unfortunately, in coming from that side of the business we kind of- media reps create a little bit of, not a bad name, but they create a little bit of this- they take all the data and they make it look like their station or their periodical or their online media company is going to be the solution for every problem. We’re able to sort through that and find out what the objective answer is to the challenge.

Phil: Excellent. What’s typical in terms of savings and results? I mean, you could talk about this in terms of, obviously there’s cost savings involved but there’s also some advantages that companies have for working with you. Do you have some of those quantifiable results in mind when you think of some of your wins or your good scenarios with customers?

Steve: Yeah. I think the way that we look at it is that we’ve really built, we’ve built the company on word of mouth. We haven’t been a company really actively out soliciting business. Almost all of our business has come from vice presidents of marketing at one company saying, “You know, you should really give these guys a shot, you should take a look at these guys.”

And I think that the reason that’s the case is that, and it’s so cliché, but it’s true, is that we don’t over promise. We simply look at what current client- you know, if we’re talking to a client about possibly getting involved with their company and helping them with their media or their planning we literally look at what they’ve been doing and we can tell within a few hours, you know, can we really add significant value to their marketing efforts? Can we deliver them 20% savings on media? Can we deliver them 30% savings on media? Are we able to take their process and say turn around you know 50% faster than their last agency simply we’re smaller and more nimble.

And we’re very direct. if we can’t help a client, if we run into a client and they simply have these rates and they’ve got so much added value they don’t know what to do with it we’re very up front about you know what? You’re getting a great deal. You should stick with what you’re doing. Keep on going. Good luck to you. That rarely happens. We’ve been able to save significant dollars, you know, everyone from Fortune 500 companies down to companies like Super Cuts down to local companies that are in the real estate industry or auto dealers. It really spans.

We’ve yet to face a challenge where we haven’t been able to save someone a significant amount of dollars. And at the end of the day most of the folks are saying that we’re really an extension of their media and marketing department, that when they bring something to our attention or ask for feedback on something or ask for a plan they know that they’re going to get honest, direct feedback from us and at the end of the day feel like they’re getting a lot of value from the dollars they’re spending.

Phil: That’s a great place to be. By the way, we can check out testimonials and then see what you guys are up to at www.laciann-staging.com/visionmedia. That’s all together, laciann-staging.com/visionmedia. Steve, thanks for your time here. I look forward to checking in with you next month, and learning more about your business. Thanks a lot. It was great messaging on point. Much appreciated.

Steve: And I think your questions are great, because you’re capturing exactly what we want to say to folks, which is we’re faster and we’re less money.

Steve: And it’s safe to swim in these waters, because you’re swimming with people that are doing business with AT&T, and Super Cuts, and AOL, and Zip Fizz, very well known brands. I mean at the end of the day that’s all we want to be is kind of in that niche area where people are saying these guys could be a solution our issue with not being able to do events in specific cities and things like that.

Phil: Right, right. You’ve got the line out there for the next big one, but you’ve also got a huge confidence booster for someone who’s green and wants to get in…

Steve: Yeah, and what we’re really trying to do is be able to say, you know, it’s like we’re doing a lot more political business. And as the business has gotten bigger…I mean back in the day when people would say do you do this? I mean the answer was always yes, no matter what.

Steve: And to a certain extent it still is, but we’re able to also be a lot more direct with people in saying, you know, I’m not going to take on a client unless I really believe we can save them money. The worst possible thing I could do is tell someone hey, we can save you 20 to 30 percent, and then turn around and not be able to save them any money. And then saying, oh sorry. So it’s a very measurable value proposition. You either can do it, and you can do it faster, and you get to work with someone with 20 years of media experience, and people on the team with 10 years media experience, and we deliver on what we say. Or it’s not true and you don’t keep that client. So I feel like we’re not selling a pipe dream, I guess. It’s pretty basic. It’s pretty straightforward.

Phil: Right, right. Yeah, yeah. It’s a great business. I like it.


Stephen Reed is the CEO and founder of Vision Media. Based in Redmond, Washington and established in 2002, Vision Media specializes in local and national media buying, strategy and consulting.