The power packed line up of Media buyers

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that behind every formidable media agency is a fiercely powerful buyer. And yet until recently while most advertising and marketing people would know the CEO of a media agency, few of them would have been able to name the all powerful buyers. When we first began sniffing around for this set, we were told that they were too reticent and would rather steer clear of the media. But Brand Equity does not take no for an answer.

This power packed line up of buyers on display has a smorgasbord of the essential characteristic traits, smarts, and creativity that has put them on top of the heap. From the very seasoned heads who have changed the way media is traded in the country to a sharp new generation of heads who combine old school ferocity with new age language, this is one powerful elite force. Despite starkly different styles, if there is one thing both the old and the relatively newer ones agree upon, it is that media buyers are no longer merely media operations people doubling up as buyers.

It’s only in recent years the role of a media buyer within agencies itself has got new meaning, and due recognition. Less than a decade ago, media buying moved from being an isolated backend operation to one that was integrated very strongly with planning. Today, slowly but steadily it’s moving from a mere designation to a function as media agencies lay more stress on the job. Agencies are beginning to take responsibility and not leaving it to individuals to deliver great buys. The role itself has moved from a mere rate driven function, to one that requires a unique creative bent too, rather than merely chalking out conventional strategies.

The integrated buying house of media agencies Zenith Optimedia and Starcom, and a senior buyer minces no words as she sneers at the perception that buyers are just men and women who haggle over numbers. They are not rate negotiators and it is not just about bargaining for a few spots more or trying to beat down price. Now that is a thing of the past and the days of media buyers operating like they were in some kind of bazaar are now done and dusted with.

Over time a level of maturity has seeped in. For one, the buddy system of buying is now undergoing an overhaul and although relationships are still critical, no more is it just ‘You scratch my back I scratch yours’. Times are changing with a new media world demanding buyers who are methodical and analytical, who know how to mix data, creativity, judgment, intuition and relationships to dish out that winning cocktail.

They all have their individual manner of handling the circuit indeed. Despite tense situations some remain unruffled and cool others are firebrands with reputes to match. One of the buying world’s most powerful forces flexing Madison’s muscle across media has about two decades of experience under her belt and relationships with media owners that are deeply entrenched. Also ingrained is a fierce reputation in trading circles and on more than one occasion the words Harsha (buyer) and terror find mention in the same sentence. The person says he is more than fine with that tag, as long as the job gets done and done well. They are the likes of P&G or Cadbury or even media sellers who swear by her. Ask Sam Balsara who’s the best buyer, and biases apart, the prompt reply is “Harsha.” To counter Joshi’s cracker personality is well-respected media man Harish Shriyan. There’s no substitute for an old head and OMD’s managing partner Shriyan’s quiet confident disposition has won him the respect of both media owners and clients and has allowed Omnicom’s media agency to maintain an impressive client retention rate and bag illustrious clients too. Today, of course, Shriyan is more focused on building up revenues for the firm and charting new plans for future growth in a rather rocky economic boat.

IMX’s ace buyer Jain started her career at HTA (now JWT) as a media planner and had to move to Contract (thanks to an archaic marriage clause husband and wife cannot work in the same firm.) Jain says the economic pinch will hurt a lot, but now is the time to strike deals that one wouldn’t have earlier. One way to look at it, says Iyer of Carat, is not the size of the budget but how to make the most effective use of it. The important thing is to grow client businesses, so that they become super sized rather than go looking for super sized accounts.

The younger bunch are not interested in first getting the simple basics right. Talking about basics, Crasto’s training started when he was just a kid. His mother who was in the catering business would send him to shop for groceries. She would tell him ‘I need 50 kilos of onions and I’ll pay you Re 1 per kilo,’ if I manage to get the load cheaper, she would let me keep the profit. That’s where I started.” Back then, he tells us, media people visited remote markets, traveled with vendors and visited printing presses. One doesn’t see that nowadays. No one knows the media they are buying. By default or design, everything tends to become transactional. But more importantly your buying ability or clout should not be determined by the budget or the client you handle.

While some buyers might be products of the old ways, others still relatively newer in the role, are changing the rules of the game, paving new ways and scripting new plans. UK telco major Vodafone’s launch in India, might not have the profile of some of the others in the list, but he is certainly got the clout. In this business, one can not rely on past glories. It is not about rate negotiation, it’s about creating media assets. And as hard times get harder media will have to get more personal. A former banker turned media-man has tight relationships with clients such as Britannia meant that after a brief spell elsewhere in the past he was asked to come back by the client.

Buyers need not be the loudest or most aggressive people in a room. They must have passion and the ability to think longer term and that’s the universal approach. The role in not restricted to just media buying and lowering costs anymore, but to tie-up strategic alliances with other brands, media houses and choosing relevant partners is imperative.