Agencies Are Hurting. Active International Wants to Help.

By Active International InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: Agencies Are Hurting. Active International Wants to Help.

Agency life isn't easy these days. Budgets are shrinking. Layoffs are rampant. Clients are trying to figure out what to do in a changing media landscape.

And that was before the pandemic. Now, seismic changes are a near-daily occurrence. Agencies need all the help they can get—as they look to help clients navigate swift changes in media strategies, optimize spend and find ways to exit media commitments. Many agencies are finding solutions from companies like Active International.

Active is the largest player on the corporate trade scene, with media buying solutions being a fundamental part of their business model. While turning companies' excess inventory into trade credits that are then used to purchase media is its core business, over the past 10 years it has added The Strategic Partnerships Group to supplement capabilities for its agency partners.

Bethany Harris is executive vice president of Active's Strategic Partnerships Group, and she feels all that agency pain. Harris joined Active a decade ago from the agency side of the business and has kept close ties with her former life, acting as a key liaison between Active and agencies.

According to Harris, Active executes the client's media buys to the agency's exact media specifications. "Your spot isn't going to run at midnight. We don't just open a closet and pick whatever inventory is on the shelf." What the client wants—daypart, impressions, specific KPIs—Harris says Active can deliver. And after the media runs, the client and agency will have complete transparency into the results.

Ten years ago, as America was in the throes of a massive recession, Active began building its Strategic Partnerships Group in response to the challenges facing agencies in tough times.

"Agencies really had to sharpen their pencils," Harris says. Clients had to reprioritize, and media often ended up on the chopping block. But because Active is able to transform undervalued assets into media at their full market value, it's not quite so dependent on the whims of the advertising marketplace. It brings a whole new set of solutions to the table, ones that can help balance sheets that often save or increase the ROI on media budgets. "Our job is to help partner agencies add measurable value to their client's business", Harris says.

Harris and her cohort are always looking to provide the biggest bang for clients' bucks by staying close to the media marketplace through its media buying teams of longtime industry vets like Harris. Although holding companies are more open these days to corporate trade, and some have their own dedicated divisions, the agencies most likely to benefit from partnering with Active are those who are being truly buffeted by the winds of crisis—the independent agencies not traded on the NYSE.

"If you're, say, a small agency in Texas or a regional shop in Atlanta, outsourcing is a strategic imperative to fully serve evolving and expanding client requirements," explains Harris. Partnering with Active gives that agency the ability to take on big clients and deliver the high-quality creative that independents offer with the same high-quality media services associated with large holding companies. If, for example, a smaller agency gets an RFP for a client who wants a multi-market local campaign, partnering with Active gives them the necessary scale and resources at competitive media pricing.

The ability to plug into Active's trading capabilities also allows independent agencies to be truly nimble in tough economic times like these, a reality that Harris says also empowers them to bring new solutions to their existing clients. "A number of agencies have been on Zoom with us to explore what we can do to creatively help their clients through this," Harris says. "They want to help navigate in partnership with their clients through these turbulent waters." If they have clients who need to get out of media commitments, Active can buy out those commitments in return for a future commitment to invest their media dollars through Active, again typically following the plans and pricing set by the agencies. The Active ethos, she adds, places a special emphasis on unity: "We want you to feel as though we're all working under one roof."

Interestingly, the pandemic has reinforced that feeling. Because everyone is working from home, Harris explains, there's a sense of being in everyone else's living room. "We're talking every day," she says. "Our relationships have really deepened."

It all points to a level of comfort you might not expect to see between agencies and another media-buying entity. Once again, though, these relationships had been built over years, largely starting with the 2009 recession. "Agencies started turning to us so they could have a corporate trading arm within their agency," Harris says. "We treat them as a real partner, whether they're an official one or a client we've done a barter deal with."

And because of her team's transparency and inclusiveness, agencies have learned to treat Active as friendly collaborator and partner, "which we all need in times like this," Harris exclaims.

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