To the ear, the sentence can get tiring. “I don’t want to comment. But I wouldn’t be surprised.” You hear it once. Twice. Thrice. Four times. But each time, on further pestering, the person in question starts narrating a story of their own. Very similar. Nothing specific, but something that goes like, “I know of this one instance where…”

The folklore in question is this: So, one time a large media buying agency was pitching for the business of one of the largest fast-moving consumer product companies in India. One which also has a flourishing tobacco business. In its eagerness to bag the account, the agency pitched a certain price for putting up the client’s advertising material on one of the top general entertainment channels in India.

Fast forward a bit, and the agency has won the account. Soon after, it approached the channel with the price. In a totally expected twist, the channel baulked. Because the price was at a significant discount to its market selling price. And not just that, the channel had no idea that a certain unrealistic price had been guaranteed by the agency to the advertiser.

In a totally unexpected twist, a standoff ensued. The agency blew hot and cold that it had several clients, and that if the channel didn’t accept the terms, then it wouldn’t see any business from the other clients too. The CEO of the channel put his foot down. Not accepting. I’ve had enough.

There are other examples.

“I know of this one instance where one of the large, print, English language newspapers in South India had a similar issue,” says a former media executive, who has spent more than two decades in the business. He asked not to be named because there are way too many friends whom he’d upset. “So the agency went and promised a certain rate to one of the largest mobile phone manufacturing companies in India. A Korean company. And then the agency comes to the paper and says drop your rates.”

One more. To make things comfortably odd.

“This is not long back. So I am readying for a pitch,” says a veteran media planner, who requested that parts of our conversation not be attributed to him because it would land him in trouble. “And this client calls and says, ‘Hi, when you are coming over, please bring along the media rate card with you.’ This is a mid-size client I am talking about, someone who has a spend of Rs 30-40 crore. I am flabbergasted, and I’m like boss, first, there is no such thing called a media rate card. Second, if this is how you will decide, then I don’t want to do business with you. We eventually didn’t do business with him.”

Why should a story about advertising agencies bickering with media companies on the one hand and advertisers on the other bother you?


Ashish K. Mishra

Ashish edits and writes stories at The Ken. Across subjects. In his last assignment, he was a Deputy Editor at Mint, a financial daily published by HT Media. At the paper, he wrote long, deeply reported feature stories. His earlier assignments: Forbes India magazine and The Economic Times. Born in Kolkata. Studied in New Delhi – B.Com from Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi University. Works out of anywhere, where there is a good story to be told.

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