God bless Digiday for posting an interview with an anonymous 25-year-old media planner this week. We've all so casually invoked this guy's name and qualities for so many years and I, for one, think it's high time we heard from him directly. The interview is not long; and while there are a few admissions that will raise eyebrows, the thing I found most compelling is the tone itself. Working in what's supposed to be a creative business that also happens to be growing by double digits, our young friend comes off like a mid-level Russian bureaucrat; unenthusiastic, indifferent and resigned to the nature of the system that feeds him. He is Dostoevsky's "Underground Man" for the digital age.
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Recalling the early days: "When I first started out in the industry (like, what, two years ago?) I would try to meet with everybody who pitched me. But after a while, it just gets overwhelming, so a lot of the time I just ignore them now. I rarely answer my phone."
Everybody's Doing It: "We're not allowed to accept trips, but people do. There are ski trips in Utah, invitations to summerhouses out on Long Island, and even to music festivals. People higher up in the company take the trips, so I don't think anyone's in a position to tell you you're fired if you do, too."
Tangible is in the Eye of the Beholder: "We have limits on the value of what we're allowed to accept as gifts. We're often sent gift cards for retailers like Starbucks, but then there's the 'tangible meetings.' Usually, somebody will offer to take you to do something, like make sneakers."
On Automation: Our protagonist goes on to talk about the agency trading desks being "...part of the team, rather than a vendor-type relationship." Nonetheless there are seen as purely a performance tool, and "Either they perform, or they don't."
On balance, there are several points at which our young correspondent ascends a bit to higher moral ground. Relying on the same handful of reps who "take care of you" as they move from property to property is also about service to the accounts. In the end, he (or she -- Digiday is carefully gender-neutral throughout) is not an example of corruption, but rather one of resignation; a young Dilbert-in-the-making. Perhaps it's because he senses what's ahead. If the holding companies' master plan comes to fruition, much of this young planner's current work will be done by machines within three years. It's nice to think that he'll be freed up to pursue more creative, strategic work on behalf of clients at that point. But it sure doesn't sound like he's being prepared for that transition.
Few digital sellers will be at all surprised by what they read here, but they should be more than a little alarmed. This is the individual on whom most of your sales strategy is based. If you're making a living managing RFPs, then your days may be as numbered as those of Planner X. He represents the end of the hose, and we're already seeing less and less flow throw through him. You can shake that hose all you want. But in an age of consolidation and automation, we'd best learn how to turn on the faucet instead.