One million years ago (well, about 25), I was what was unaffectionately known as a "spot monkey" at the now-defunct Granada TV. It was a terrible and poorly paid job that largely revolved around being shouted at by pumped-up media buyers (Carat was particularly notorious at the time) for not moving their airtime around. To compound the misery, I wasn’t very good at it, despite the job not being particularly demanding.
Happily, technology, programmatic and changes to advertising regulation have meant that people in TV sales are now free to do more creative and innovative jobs rather than being menaced down the phone for not moving a 20-second Anadin spot from This Morning to the centre break of Coronation Street by a TV buyer who probably had four pints of Stella at lunchtime.
While some aspects of TV trading have changed immeasurably since this then-callow youth tried his hand at it, others have apparently not. It was particularly surprising to read this week that Channel 4 and ITV were suspending late booking fees – only because I had no idea that they still existed. In short, these fees penalise advertisers that do not send over their monthly bookings before a pre-agreed date (for Channel 4, it is eight weeks). In an era of performance marketing, advance booking deadlines look like a relic of a bygone era; an epoch from before even I tried (and failed) to make a mark.
Channel 4 and ITV are marketing it as an attempt to persuade advertisers to continue to give them their support, as so many are pulling spend or deferring it to later in the year, when they hope people will be able to buy their products and services. Given that the broadcasters' businesses, the content that they provide and the livelihoods of the people they employ are dependent on this revenue, it’s understandable that they want to try to minimise the impact of the collapse in adspend.
But, as one former agency broadcast chief – whose time at the top of TV coincided with mine at the bottom – pointed out, a better initiative would be to allow smaller advertisers to defer payment terms on new and pre-booked campaigns for 60 or 90 days rather than just 30. Pedro Avery, formerly of Havas (and, as older readers might remember, Booth Lockett Makin), always was from the more thoughtful school of TV buying – I don’t ever remember him shouting and swearing. For the publicly owned Channel 4, you’d have thought that it could use its resources and cash reserves in a more imaginative way.
Happily, ITV goes further than Channel 4 by offering advertisers use of its in-house creative resource to produce ads or provide an interim fix for brands whose copy might be jarring at a time of social exclusion at cost value. The in-house team already produce hundreds of ads that run across linear TV, video-on-demand and sponsorship.
While these things might not seem to matter on a macro level, it’s great to see creative thinking by some media companies to help mitigate the circumstances, thereby proving that necessity is the mother of invention. And that cleverer and more imaginative people work in TV sales than was perhaps once the case.
Jeremy Lee is consulting editor at Campaign