By Wayne Karrfalt
Special to TelevisionWeek
Just as traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange do when making a trade, media planners and TV network salespeople still use paper order forms and invoices to execute an order.
This outdated system has made buying national cable spots particularly cumbersome; for years, large media planning agencies have stayed away from cable because of the tremendous amount of time consumed contracting with all of the networks involved.
“This is a big issue for cable because of the sheer volume of spots,” said Danielle DeLauro, VP of sales and marketing for the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau. “It’s become a huge burden for agencies. They say we like cable, but we don’t have the people in-house to process the buys themselves.”
Enter CAB President Sean Cunningham. When he took the reins of the bureau three years ago, he decided to make it a top priority to offer buyers and networks an e-business solution. He brought Ms. DeLauro over from his former company, Universal McCann, to head up the effort, and she in turn formed a committee of cable networks and MSA technicians and began collaborating with the American Association of Advertising Agencies to iron out the details.
Two years later an e-business solution is finally primed and ready to be tested by the marketplace. Ms. DeLauro and her colleagues are now making the rounds and hope to begin testing the system with a large ad agency in early 2007.
Web-based electronic ordering and invoicing may not sound as exciting as the release of the newest PlayStation console, but the CAB expects it to have a big impact on the marketplace for national spot cable.
Under the current process, even though vendors have systems in place that help outline the structure of these agreements-predominantly Donovan Data Systems on the planning side and Management Science Associates on the network side-the actual buy sheets and invoices must be faxed back and forth until both parties agree on the deal.
Not only has it been a pain to execute orders until now, but using the old system it sometimes takes forever to get paid. The difficulty comes in keeping track of all the orders and amended orders going back and forth, and resolving discrepancies on invoices that may or may not account for these changes in the final agreement. The chance for human error is considerable.
For instance, say an agency wants to buy 10 spots from ESPN. The buyer picks up the phone and the network’s salesperson faxes over an order form that outlines the programs and time periods of each spot.
But the planner is not satisfied with the frequency or the time spot of one of the shows. He requests a change and the network sales executive faxes back the amended form. This can occur two to three times per order, and spread out across 10 to 15 networks, a mountain of paper can result.
“The biggest problem is changes. The initial order can come through, but all of these buys are living and changing things based on the client’s needs,” Ms. DeLauro said.
The new system will allow spot buyers and salespeople to log onto an online ordering screen that spells out the details of the agreement, calculates costs for invoicing purposes and tracks all authorized changes made during the process. There are no faxes to lose and no questions to arise when it comes time to invoice the buyer.
The CAB didn’t have too tough a time selling the idea of the new system to the ad community, according to Ms. DeLauro. The chief concern on both sides was that the e-business platform would be universally adopted so they wouldn’t have to learn a competing system a few months down the road.
“People were looking for an industrywide solution guided by the 4A’s and the CAB, and that meant getting everyone involved to agree,” she said.
To get it to work with both vendors, XML-based schema codes for both ordering and invoicing had to be devised so both systems could talk to each other and produce compatible results. Perfecting the schema process took eight months, Ms. DeLauro said, as both sides wanted to be extra careful nothing was lost in translation.
“There was some discussion about what should and shouldn’t be included. We kept coming back to reassure them that we did not want to change how the business process works now,” she said.
Ms. DeLauro is confident the results should please both the buying and the selling communities. Details of how the schema work are available for advertising professionals to look at on the 4A Web site, aaaa.org.
The only job left for Ms. DeLauro and the CAB is to get the industry to sign off on the system and adopt it for its daily buying and selling needs. She expects this process to take time, but once a few key agencies come on board, most others should follow. Small and large ad agencies alike will benefit, she said, because the smaller agencies, even though they don’t buy as many spots, have even fewer people to execute them.
She also realizes it takes time to change a process that has been in place for more than 50 years. But this is a change the industry wants and needs, she said.
“There’s always legacy issues. Everyone is used to the way they do it now, but people will go out of their way to embrace this process because it will make everyone’s life easier,” Ms. DeLauro said. “They are ready for this. It’s really something they want.”