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We Buy Ideas, Not Media – Q&A with “Anti-Agency” CEO Ric Militi – Part

Ric Militi is CEO and Creative Director of InnoVision LLC, a leading independent Southern California “anti-agency” (they don’t “buy” radio, for example, they “invest” in it), and he has strong feelings on radio’s place in the mediasphere. If you read no other part of this interview, skip to the last few paragraphs.

This is Part 1 of our conversation. Part 2 posts tomorrow.

Watch the video of our conversation or check out the highly abbreviated transcript below.

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Ric, you obviously are buying or “investing in” all types of media for your clients. How do you make investment decisions differently from the way any other agency would?

We look at much more than just buying a media schedule. How else can we integrate our clients into the media where it would make an impact?

It’s so critical to catch consumers when they’re interested in hearing about what you have to say.

Media brands are like a giant party.

Picture a party in someone’s home; all your friends are there, and the door bursts open and in comes a car salesman, “Who wants to buy a car?” Certainly everyone would turn to that person and go, “Why are you at our party? Get out!” And then you shut the door.

That’s how I see advertising on media brands.

I don’t want to just burst into people’s lives and say, “hey you want to buy something?” I don’t think that’s what people want to hear. I think people have a genuine interest in buying things, but they want to buy them at their discretion. They want to buy them on their timeframe, and they want to have the right information.

People love the information, but the key is to know when to deliver it to them, to understand their lives so you can deliver the radio spots or the promotions when they want to hear them.

We started doing that with “in-content” advertising – messaging by talking to people in content: By having endorsements, by creating events – experiential types of media that supported the media schedule but was not relying exclusively on it.

If you look at some of the methodologies that are being used to buy media, they’re antiquated. It’s what we were using when there were only three TV networks. But it wasn’t really that hard to buy media then. You bought on all three networks and you were done. There are a lot more choices now, and people are definitely much more fickle.

You’re saying the way that media – radio and TV in particular – is sold is antiquated.

How the medium is sold, exactly. How the schedules are built using gross rating points. These metrics are only one slice of the pie – only one part of what I think should be looked at when making media decisions.

Is it a slice that’s more or less important than it used to be, and why?

I think when this was the only way to do it, it was obviously way more important. But as people became more intelligent about media and started looking at more of the sociology and psychology and individuality of it, it has since become less important. Meanwhile there are many other factors that might be more critical, and exploring those has produced tremendous results for our clients.

Many broadcasters tell me that agencies are often not motivated by results for their clients. They’re only motivated to buy at the lowest cost-per-point – period. Is that attitude changing? Because it seems to me if that doesn’t change among clients the system doesn’t change.

I agree with you. I think it’s the agency’s and the anti-agency’s responsibility to educate the buyers, the people who are investing the money into the media, and explain to them that there’s so much more. Simply buying on lowest CPP is the easy way to do things, and it’s human nature to do things the easy way.

What we do here in InnoVision is much more difficult. It requires much more manpower. We throw way more people at our media buying process than you would in a traditional agency because we look at so many different parts of the concept as opposed to just buying the gross rating points or by cost-per-point. GRP’s and CPP’s should be something to consider, but don’t let them drive your decision. That’s a mistake.

The more you can integrate your client naturally and organically into someone’s life and make it part of each consumer’s own personal brand story, the more effective you can be for that client.

Then if you seamlessly present your messages to them at the times they want to hear them I feel you have a much greater chance of getting into their minds and being there when they make the buying decisions.

What do you look for when you’re buying or investing in radio and placing your messages “in-content”?

I look for a match for the client. We require all the personalities at our radio partners to experience whatever the product is, to buy into it, to believe in it. We also create a correspondence program with those endorsement people so that there’s constant communication between the brand and the personalities. The brand actually becomes part of their lives. So now when they’re speaking about our clients’ brands, they’re speaking with a lot of conviction and it’s authentic.

Obviously, we also look for equity we can borrow from them. They have their own listener bases, people who trust and listen to them.

Radio is still the one medium where people actually feel like they’re being spoken to by the personality they’re listening to. That radio personality is their friend, and if their friend endorses a product, then there’s a lot more credibility in the minds of consumers.

When you talk about investment rather than buying, that presumes a return?


How do you assess that return? What kind of metrics do you use?

I’m old school, I pick up the phone and call my client and ask them “how were your sales this week? What did you learn from the advertising that we did this week? Where could we improve?” We get incredibly involved. We want to know their numbers. We want to know percentage increases. That’s the best way, what’s happening at the cash register.

It’s not only important for our clients to get that first customer in the door, it’s also their responsibility to build the brand and the relationship so the customer base grows, because that’s where the true value is. It’s not that first experience that the consumer has – it’s the ongoing experience that could last forever.

Suppose I’m a radio seller. I come in off the street, I’ve got a ranker under my arm, I lay it out on the table in front of you and I say, “Let me show you what are our ratings are in these various demos.” What’s your response?

I know the numbers. Tell me something better about yourself. Tell me why you’re different. Tell me why I should invest my client’s hard earned money in your radio station that’s going to get the results they need, and tell me what you’re going to do above and beyond the media schedule.

Sell me an idea. Don’t sell me a media schedule.

I often hear broadcasters complain that agencies want “added value” for free to justify the spot buy. But you’re saying something different: You’re saying it’s not about the “added value” or the spots – it’s the idea that drives the whole thing.

You nailed it. That’s exactly right.

Our mantra is: We buy ideas, not media.

When we put out RFP’s for media investments or media schedules, we say don’t over-“statisticize” us. We don’t need your statistics. We are fully capable of getting the statistics we need and the reason we’ve actually contacted you is because you fit with what we’re looking for. Now let’s talk about what’s important. Let’s talk business. Let’s talk about ideas.

Not giveaways – do not show me those things. Do not bring me any boilerplate ideas. Do not bring me a promotion that any company could stamp their name on, and all you have to do is go back to your office, change the name of the company, and sell it to someone else. Do not bring me those. I will instantly disqualify you from the media buy. I want to see ideas. I want to see you build an idea specifically for my client that can only work for them and none of their competitors.

I’m telling you what’s different about my client, I’m telling you what their selling point is, I’m telling you what their brand is, I’m telling you what their objective is, I’m telling you who they want to talk to.

Now tell me why I need to buy your media?

Part 2 tomorrow – where we discuss (among other things) Pandora.

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