Media Perspective: Late deals will cost media owners more than they can afford

Journalists are quite used to letting tasks fester uncompleted right up to a deadline. And anyway, nine times out ten, even if you're prone to leaving things to the last minute, they end up getting done.

It's a situation that most on the media sales and buying sides are familiar with. Some in the business are beginning to speculate, however, that short-termism is becoming a worrying trend and that media owners are damaging their futures by bending over backwards to accept late money on unfavourable terms from advertisers.

Back in the day, when men were men and the likes of ITV and other mainstream media owners ruled the roost, there was usually a glut of late money flooding the TV and press markets. However, the media owners, bar none, charged a premium for late-booked space.

Now it seems there are pretty much always deals to be done - enabling media agencies to wait until the last minute before pushing desperate, enfeebled sales teams into taking what they can get.

That might be a bit of an overstatement but many, even within agencies, concede a problem is arising because there is so much cheap late space available.

Some worry that, in their desperation to fill inventory at the last minute, media owners are damaging their brands in the long term and that deals done in desperation set a dangerous precedent from which it is hard to escape and rebuild yields. When they should be behaving on the budget airline principle (the earlier you book, the cheaper it is), some are doing the reverse.

And it seems the trend is becoming ever more pronounced following news that outdoor media owners are offering further discounts to advertisers after a poor first half of the year. A sure way to bring in late money, but will it be good for the out-of-home sector in the long term?

The greatest pressure seems to be on the national press, which has always had a significant late-deal culture due to the once healthy retail advertising sector and the relative lack (compared with the TV market) of upfront negotiations. But it's increasingly hard for newspaper sales teams to hold the line and refuse late money offered on media agency terms rather than at a premium.

Of course there is an element of supply and demand here (not to mention a need for sales teams to hit targets), but it would be for the long-term good of most media brands if late money was still taken at a premium. Because, despite the research and branding work being executed by trade bodies, their media are in danger of becoming labelled bargain-basement options. The likes of the Newspaper Marketing Agency should consider taking a more active involvement in trading issues.

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