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Rep Firms Respond To Growing Challenges

Their station clients are grumbling and buying agencies are insisting that spot TV can be bought and sold like any other commodity. But the three survivng indie rep firms -- Katz, Cox and Petry -- are undaunted. In the face of multiple challenges, they are reinventing themselves confident that they can continue to prove their worth in the digital, multiplatform future.
By
TVNewsCheck,

The top executive of a large TV station group is blunt when speaking of the three independent rep firms that sell spot advertising on behalf of hundreds of stations around the country. “They have to reinvent themselves,” he says. “The business has pushed reps to a place where now they are mostly transactional.”

He misses the days when it was common for rep firm executives to help his station sales people see agency planners – key decision makers -- when visiting New York. Now, the introductions don’t go beyond the buyer level for the most part.

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And referring to the amount of business that is now conducted electronically, rather than in personal meetings, the broadcaster adds: “It’s my belief that a really highly paid assistant could do the same work.”

If one were to create a “TV rep satisfaction scale” from the comments expressed by group execs contacted for this story, that source's opinion would fall on the “exasperated” side.

The executive is not alone. While some of his peers are satisfied with the job the reps are doing for them, many others grumble that they are not doing enough and press for improvements.

Top officials at the rep companies -- Cox Reps, Katz Television Group and Petry Television – acknowledge that they are far from perfect, but they insist that they continue to play a critical role in maximizing stations’ advertising revenue, and they say they have already begun implementing strategies designed to insure their relevancy deep into the multiplatform future.

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“The demise of national spot has certainly been exaggerated for many, many years,” says Val Napolitano, CEO of Petry TV.

Jim Beloyianis, president of Katz Television Group, believes the reps may actually grow. In five years time, he says, it’s very possible that some of the network O&O in-house rep firms will turn to the indie firms for representation.

Part of the reason is that the national spot business is no longer concentrated in a few agencies in the top markets, Beloyianis says. “If you’re a good rep company, you have to maintain as many offices as possible to service the agencies, knowing that there will be a shifting of funds from one to the other.”

Before taking a look at the promise and perils ahead, it pays to understand how the rep business has changed. A few decades ago, there were more than 25 firms repping stations, and national spot made up 50% of all spot advertising. Rep commissions were in the low double-digit percentages.

Today the business has dwindled down to the three indie reps and five network O&O reps. What’s more, national spot has declined to about a 35-40% of station revenue. And hard-driving broadcast groups have negotiated down rep commissions to about 6%.

Many factors triggered the changes: the dramatic consolidation of station ownership, massive competition from cable and alternative media, the rise of duopolies and the integration of increasingly more sophisticated electronic back-office systems and the economic dips. 

Among the looming threats to the reps is an initiative championed by the 4A’s advertising trade association. Called Project Reinvention, it’s trying to commoditize the buying and selling of spot TV, broadcasters and reps say.

All three independents underwent layoffs during the darkest days of the most recent recession. After losing some of its major client-groups, Petry has largely shut down its venerable Blair unit.

But thanks in part to the economic rebound and dramatic improvement of spot business last year, the downsizing is behind them, execs at all three firms say. They are now focused on the future and in implementing digital strategies.

Katz has 17 offices and reps more than 500 stations through its Eagle, Continental and Millennium units, as well as a direct-marketing, paid-programming group. 

In 2009, Katz went through a round of layoffs like its competitors, but it also added 15 more people to its digital Web unit, Katz 360, and it created a six-person new-business-development group called National Marketing for Local Media. “We plan to dramatically increase [those two newer units] as we gain more billings in those areas,” Beloyianis says.

Meanwhile, Petry reintroduced a business model it had employed in the 1970s, according to Napolitano. “We went back to that general idea that ‘less is more’ – fewer television stations, but more in terms of being able to provide focus for those fewer TV stations. And ultimately that translates into improved or superior performance,” he says.

Napolitano says one of his company’s main priorities is making the backroom processes more efficient, then taking the cost savings and applying them to the sales team.

Petry also has formed a Petry Digital unit for Web sales. “We’re going to evolve it as the agencies evolve,” says Napolitano, who expects that the silos that exist within agencies separating digital planning and buying from traditional media will eventually disappear, allowing rep firms to more easily sell multiplatform opportunities.

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Comments (12) -

TVGenMgr Nickname posted over 3 years ago
The consolidation has hurt smaller stations since now they pick and choose if the station is "worth their time". If you don't have a person on the station side dedicated to "screaming" at them, you don't get attention and you lose share. You must always be a squeaky wheel.
jdshaw Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Nice try on spin from Petry's Val Napolitano: "We went back to that general idea that less is more - fewer television stations...". Right. Cox and Katz have 90% of the business. Petry is left with the scraps after a disastrous 12 years of mismanagment from 1997 - 2009 that left PMC in shambles.
SpotGal Nickname posted over 3 years ago
National sales executives work hand-in-hand with tv station mangement in planning and executing throughout the year to maximize revenue. The majority of rep firm managers and AEs are very responsive to station group goals, and in fact are compensated on achieiving the goals. If a station group isn't pleased with their national rep performance, it's easy to just "beat" the rep.....but perhaps the top managemnt should also look within their organization for "weak links". The best relationships are true partnerships, with clear communication of expectations, praise for a job well done and constructive criticism when one or the other falls short.
doctor Nickname posted over 3 years ago
If I am a station guy and I have my NSM buy enough rep lunches; do station trips for buyers; guarantee ratings; guarantee no pre-emptions, guarantee lowest rates and prostitue the station in any other ways possible I might get on the buy. Something is very wrong with this picture and the reps just might be replaced by those two well paid assistants.
FederalGuy Nickname posted over 3 years ago
How ironic and funny to see Station execs complain that the Reps don't do enough when the stations have driven their commissions (pay to the reps) down to the point that the reps have to cut back on services. I have my own complaints about the Reps, but stations have 100% caused this situation and for the most part are also at fault for where National Spot is today. These same people complaining at stations take many "National" account locally and probably pay their local rep a higher commission and the local rep is strictly doing transactional business (further hurting rep payments and not getting any better performance on the business). Then there is the TOTAL fascination on share that most stations have, this blind focus (or panic) drives stations to lower their rates, causes pre-emptions (more work for the station and the rep) and creates the sense with agencies that it's better to go to Network cable and get a guarantee. CPP in just about every market has cratered in recent years due to panic pricing by station management obsessed about what the next audit will say. And yet the stations still believe they have to 'Scream" at the reps and that it's the reps fault. A lot of TV station management that I know and have worked with could easily be replaced by one well paid assistant. BTW, I have spent all of my career on the station side of this relationship.
TVGenMgr Nickname posted over 3 years ago
Completely agree with you about stations diving for share. A huge mistake on stations' part. We try to hold rate - but it seems like there's always one station who starts that ball rolling (interestingly enough Cox stations have done more than their share of diving). I also agree with you about taking too many accounts local. We do that ONLY if the client requires it - and we try to talk them out of it. "Scream" was a bad choice of words on my part. I don't mean a loud, adversarial relationship - I mean that we have to constantly keep ourselves at the top of the rep's mind or we sink on the priority list - which I wish we didn't have to do.
David Tynan Nickname posted over 3 years ago
The National Reps serve a very important function. Should a client not be happy with their representation they should seek other means to serve what needs to be accomplished. I have spent time on both sides:rep and then station-side (AE through GM) with over 30 years in the business. Despite my early years in station management of pounding the rep I came to have a real appreciation for the role they fill and as a GM came to the realization that you get out what you put into the relationship. I never allowed an NSM of GSM to fob off onto the rep the "bad deal" excuse. That's what I was paying them for...to take responsibility for the business they were accountable for. If my GSM had taken a particularly heinous piece of business...they had to live with it and figure out how to make it work while hitting their number---otherwise---via con dios! I'm not trying to be an apologist for the rep..merely pointing out that, in my experience, most stations need to get their house in order before blasting their national sales force. And for all the "let's take it local" folks...it shows a profound lack of perspective on the innate differences between the two billing bases.
Adam Armbruster Nickname posted over 3 years ago
When I was with the ABC / Disney O/O station group we had a saying that "Every client is a "local" client." No, not in the sense that all business should be handled by a local AE, but that within every advertiser was an existing actual client relationship (not just the media buyer) that could be grown with solid relationship building and idea presenting. We did this with large clients including McDonalds, Modells, Campbells Soup, QVC, and many more. It's not about fighting with the rep firm, it's about bringing clients profitable ideas..... and then letting them throw money at you. With this very approach I averages a 35-45% share of my "national" clients and was #1 in new local revenue every year I was in local sales. Ideas win, every time.
spotsanddots Nickname posted over 3 years ago
The fact that national business gets done with computer key strokes is a reality and a fact. The rep is selling bologna by the pound with very little interaction or face time. Not their fault, they are caught up in the system of buys being done in a matter of ten minutes. For national rep leadership to be quoted as saying"“The demise of national spot has certainly been exaggerated for many, many years..." is paramount to saying you've been asking us to change and be groundbreaking for years and we haven't done it yet so why should we now? Brilliant and typical.
Rene Hodges posted over 3 years ago
hmmmm...I was local for about 20+ years and joined the rep for 7. What I found was nobody wanted to hear the truth and the facts are very clear - nobody is a must buy. Corporate demanded that we get very good at writing fairytales and positioning. Every comment to the station had to be positioned so that there was the possibility of a win. Powerhouse news stations had no idea how to compete for share if EN/LNW wasn't part of the buy. CWs & MNTs couldn't get more than a token if it was heavy news on a demo older than 34. I enjoyed the job IN CHARLOTTE...but there wasn't enough money to pay me to take the heat that my brothers & sisters in NY and Atlanta took on a daily basis. If you want someone who can sell time, pay them. If you want somebody to flip excel spreadsheets between the station and the buyer, make up rationale and lies about business and handle a trainload of make goods, congratulations - you're getting what you're paying for!
AZObserver Nickname posted over 3 years ago
I agree that the consolidation in the national TV rep industry has been dramatic over the past two decades, but it's nothing like what has happened with national spot radio, where the demise of Interep has made it a one-player game for Katz. It makes the rep business in TV look very healthy.
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Overnights, adults 18-49 for April 16, 2014
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