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The End Of Ad Salespeople?

I’ve been replaced by a computer. I guess it had to happen eventually. I just didn’t think it was going to happen this soon, and at such a low price.

I recently read of a new ad agency called Spot Runner. Their website “helps” small businesses choose a creative message and a media schedule, all for a cost of less than $500 (which includes all production and distribution costs) plus the airtime expenses.

Imagine that. Hard-pressed business owners can pick from an ad library of pre-produced commercials, and select from a plethora of options as to where they’d like it to run. Spot Runner then takes care of the execution—from actual proof of when and where it aired, to information on the viewing audience!

But wait, there’s more. The agency has assembled a collection of ads for a number of different categories. Businesses then customize the ads with their logos, their taglines and a limited amount of extra information.

Category exclusivity is available on the messages in specific markets. The agency has the ability to place ads on local broadcast stations in half of the top-100 markets, and on spot cable in most markets across the country.

“In the past, TV advertising was too expensive, difficult and time-consuming for local businesses,” said Spot Runner chairman and CEO Nick Grouf in a recent statement. “In addition, conventional ad agencies simply aren’t equipped to serve local customers. Now that Spot Runner has brought the entire advertising process online, even the smallest business can capitalize on the power of television to build its brand and attract new customers.”

Wow. I feel like a magic crystal ball has been placed on my desk, allowing me to peer into the future. Who’d have thought that my 20+ years of experience in TV advertising sales, production, programming and promotion could be replaced so easily? Then again, I’m sure that’s what travel agents, bank tellers and record store owners said a few years back, too.

Now that I’ve seen my future, I might as well confront it head-on. I went to their website, and created an account for my hypothetical business, “Rochester Golf Gear.” I browsed through a series of canned commercials, finally selecting “Gimme,” a cute spot about a man playing golf with his son.

Customizing the template was pretty easy, though I don’t think I’ll be able to “bug” the spot with my company’s logo—a must in today’s TiVo-equipped era. Talking to someone about this objective would require a human conversation, available via the site’s Express Launch phone consultation service, which costs $99 extra.

Now comes the media buy. After providing Spot Runner with my $5,000 budget, I’m given a menu of media options to choose from that would make Henry Ford proud. Yes, any station in my Rochester, NY market can be had, as long as it’s...WHAM-TV. No NBC (my employer), no CBS, no Fox, no UPN, no WB, no cable.

Personal station preference aside, I can live with this for the purpose of this exercise. So what’s the Spot Runner recommendation for my one-week Grand Opening Sale? Let’s take a look:

REGION: Greater Rochester, NY
DATES: 4/10 - 4/17
SCHEDULE: Run Of Schedule
UNIT PRICE: $564.00
SUBTOTAL: $4,512.00

Readers, you may not know commercial rates in my medium-sized market, but I do. I collect enough competitive data to know that this is a bad deal for the advertiser. I can’t address whether it’s a good deal for the station because there is no disclosure as to how much of the investment goes to the media entity, versus what percentage of the cost pays for “...standard customer support, distribution, delivery of ads to applicable media outlets, ad licensing fees, exclusivity management services, reporting, media planning programs and any other services necessary to fulfill an order.”

For you number crunchers, here’s the Adults 25-54 Cost Per Point (CPP), assuming that an equal rotation between the hours was attained...and for comparison purposes, I’ve included SQAD CPP for both Early Fringe (4-5pm) and Early News (5-6pm) in Q2, too:

A 25-54 RTG: 28.0 GRPs
REACH: 13.5[r /> FREQUENCY: 2.1
CPP: $161.14
SQAD CPP: $73 (EF) to $79 (EN)

So there you have it. The recommended schedule costs more than DOUBLE the average market price for 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. Furthermore, the website placed half my ads for Rochester Golf Gear in Oprah. This, even after I went back and fine-tuned my user profile, clearly indicating that my target demo was men aged 35-49. Hmm...maybe the end of living breathing TV salespeople isn’t on the horizon just yet. There’s hope for my kids’ college tuition payments, after all!

Computer technology has transformed a number of industries in recent years, but the most successful examples are where cost was driven out of the equation, not added in. I do, however, think that this online concept has potential. Let’s face it—it’s a pure commoditization of both “creative” and “airtime.” However, are television messages best served up in one flavor: vanilla? I think not.

I expect online pricing to make further inroads in our industry, but it’s going to need an interface that prices inventory based on realtime availability. Until then, this service is a good idea in need of some serious refinement (I do like the part about the advertiser pre-paying for the whole schedule on their credit card, though!).

Spot Runner is not the only player in the online media buying game. Scatter TV is another service; however, theirs does not offer pre-produced commercials. It’s clear to me that more players will emerge, and I expect that one will take their concepts and computer code directly to local stations. This would allow local businesses to buy commercial airtime right off each station’s own website!

Spot Runner participated in Esther Dyson’s PC Forum conference in San Diego in March, and I’m amazed by the “gee/wow” coverage their presence generated. “[It] allows small businesses to advertise on TV in local markets”, stated one blogger. Hey, I’ve got news for you. If you want to advertise on local TV, there’s another invention available right now to help facilitate the deal. It’s called a telephone. There’s a team of creative, user-friendly people who will actually come and see you in person to make local television advertising work for you.

Jeffrey Ulrich is the new business development manager at WHEC, Rochester, NY. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of HBI, Inc. He can be reached through his website,, or at