My take on Lord Sugar’s latest rant

I read with great interest Lord Sugar’s latest rant in Campaign last week. Not just because it’s the infamous Lord Sugar, but because I have a unique perspective on this, having been involved in selling Amscreen’s media offering from the very start before leaving the company in April to start my own media sales company.

I’m not sure what he thinks will be achieved with this tirade. This “no bullshit” approach might have worked for Amstrad back in the day when they were flogging stereos and computers to the likes of Comet and Dixons, but all it is likely to achieve now is to demoralise his own sales and marketing teams. The odd employee may emerge to support his comments but I can imagine more the quiet groans from staff on reading this article – it undermines all of their relationships and hard work.

Amscreen has some great people working there and has produced some great quality work.  Simon Sugar is full of drive and enthusiasm for Amscreen and was great to work with. The sales team is full of talent, and much time is spent thinking about how best to deliver against a brief. Certainly, in the early days the sales effort had to be top notch because we were taking a brand new media offering to market. Success doesn’t happen over night; it demands 100% effort and relies upon the media planning and buying community understanding and trusting your media format. You can only achieve this by seeing agencies and specialists on a regular basis and educating them about the product. It was my experience that, even when an agency really backed Amscreen for a specific plan, it would often fall off the plan when interrogated by the client / advertiser due to a lack of familiarity of the product, or for budgetary reasons.

Lord Sugar complains about media buyers being too far removed to understand or buy media on Amscreen’s networks. Not strictly true. Let me tell you something that most sales people will never admit – plenty of media bookings come in “through the window” thanks to media agencies. In other words, the phone will ring and the sales person will book a campaign that they had no prior visibility of, or any influence over. During my time at Amscreen, it (like most other media owners) benefited from £££’s worth of media bookings that it hadn’t had to work too hard for – the agency did the thinking (and selling) for them. Most sales people will claim these successes as their own, and complain about ‘the market’ when things don’t go their way!

The main source of Lord Sugar’s dissatisfaction – lack of brand count (read: money) – is most likely due to an over-inflated expectation of Amscreen’s true potential, rather than a consequence of alleged “kickbacks”.

If Lord Sugar wants brand count, then he should invest in a more generic, broadcast media network, rather than concentrating on retail screens. There are plenty of “small” OOH media owners doing very well because they play to their strengths. The successful ones make sure that they deliver their target audience as best they can, and don’t try to be all things to all people. Media owners like SubTV, Zoom Media, ECN Live, RedBus etc. all seem to survive, and indeed prosper, because there is sufficient desire from agencies and advertisers to use their networks.

Certain sectors perform well for Amscreen, particularly Automotive and Media, but the brutal truth is that the petrol station environment will only ever command a limited amount of media budget. It’s not relevant for every advertiser, despite the wonderful targeting capabilities and, for those advertisers that want to reach the petrol station audience, there is a choice of competing media owners. So, for each petrol station brief, expect Amscreen to fight it out with petrol nozzles, forecourt 6 sheets or washroom media at service stations. That limits the overall ‘pot’ even more. This needn’t be a problem, so long as the company overheads are relative to its revenue potential.

So, why aren’t the “no brainer” products, such as chocolate brands, using Amscreen more? Well, targeting consumers in a petrol station (or any other retail environment), whilst they are queuing and within arms reach of the promoted product, is very important. But that’s why, for the big confectionery companies, putting money and effort behind in-store / trade / shopper marketing is a “no brainer” to promote their products in-store! It’s no accident that certain chocolate bars might be on a price promotion, or on a gondola end, or placed in a dump bin next to the till. In-store marketing works. And if the only measure of success was EPOS data and ROI then these formats would win hands down, every time. The question is whether Amscreen’s screens are a more effective or cheaper way of achieving the same results as the below-the-line equivalents.  Judging by Lord Sugar’s comments, it seems the market has spoken.

But it is not 100% about ROI. Amscreen’s screens can also deliver an emotive message; the animated copy can bring a brand to life, at the right time of day, and can help foster a more enduring affinity with the promoted brand. Price-led promotions appeal to a customer’s more fickle and impulsive nature, whereas brand promotions can change long term purchasing behaviours.

The wider benefits of DOOH, such as day part targeting, multiple copy changes and live feeds are all things that Amscreen do very well. Indeed, they have enjoyed much support from automotive brands that have bought into both the motoring audience and the sophisticated ways of communicating with them that it provides. For example, Amscreen’s slick, automated AdLive, which allows a local dealer message to be tagged on to the end of a national ad.

I suppose that’s the crux of it really. When your proposition delivers a great solution, to the right audience, then advertisers will buy it. Even if you think there is a huge conspiracy in the media world as Lord Sugar does, it doesn’t change the fact that if a client wants to buy a particular media channel, then the agency will happily buy it for them. However, most clients trust, listen and employ their agency to help them plan the most effective media channels for their campaign, which is why it doesn’t make sense to point the finger at them. Forget media, in any industry, when does it make sense to pick a fight with the people that buy your product? What sort of reaction does he expect?

If Lord Sugar really wants Amscreen to be successful then I suggest that his most valuable contribution going forward would be to say nothing and give his team time and breathing space to ply their trade, rather than undermining all of their hard work with his “no bullshit” approach and unrealistic demands.