There are near universal advertising sales hurdles as business information providers morph from publishers to media companies. There are famous examples of companies like Penton, Source Media, Randall-Reilly and others who have already gone through this. One constant in those flagship stories is the need to change company culture, often requiring significant turnover in the sales department.
I talk with plenty of companies who are still figuring out digital products and sales. Yet as I sat down to write I wondered if this might sound like we’re only talking about small publishers. Most B2B publishers who undertake this transition don’t have the organizational size, or private equity money those mentioned have, to absorb such wholesale transition and recruitment costs.
Last week’s news about Time Inc. reminds me otherwise. You have probably read they are killing the publisher role. By any name, what Time is doing is overhauling their ad sales procedures. It was the lead story in every media trade newsletter and the perfect reminder everyone is still learning best practices in media sales.
When I recently heard Ryan Dohrn suggest publishers should appoint a Director of Advertising Integration, it resonated with me. I see many publishers grapple with the concept of selling banner ads versus selling well-packaged online ad programs. I am convinced the latter is the path to success. That title Ryan suggests sounded like it addressed this need. Dohrn has 25 years of experience selling ads and managing ad sales teams. He is a widely respected ad sales trainer and consultant and founder of Brain Swell Media.
Dohrn sees many publishers struggling to sell digital advertising. A common problem is how sales organizations are structured as publishers transition from print-centric to multi-channel media companies. (Or at least as they try to sell more online advertising.) Many simply add online advertising to a rate card and send the heretofore print advertising sales staff off to sell both. Of the hundreds of sales reps he works with, says Dohrn, “I know two (former print-only) reps who do this particularly well.” He sees salespeople wondering, “‘Why am I going to sell a $500 digital ad* when I can sell a $5,000 print ad?'”
It surprised me Dohrn still sees a substantial number of publishers who deploy one team selling print and separate salespeople selling digital advertising. It is an attempt to hold onto salespeople who have deep ties to a given industry and the ad buyers, without having to make them digital ad experts. “It creates confusion and it’s annoying to the buyers to have one more meeting” about the same media brand, says Dohrn.
The Digital Liaison
Enter the Director of Advertising Integration. Dohrn refers to this role as digital liaison, regardless of title. He says it is not necessarily full time at first. He suggests cultivating someone in your organization who has knowledge of social media and digital advertising, from a technical and/or generational perspective. She or he becomes the go-to person working with ad sales, answering the sales team’s questions and helping them shape quality proposals. Definitely give the digital liaison an incentive, he points out.
If you have reps with invaluable industry connections, why give that up? Dohrn says make sure they have a basic understanding and are clear about how to best make use of the digital liaison. The result is what he has labeled a 4-Legged Sales Call: the seasoned rep and the technical sales expert working side-by-side in sales meetings. He has seen this as a sure path as you transition to multi-media. He cautions to watch for those old-school reps who won’t learn what they need to know and will rely on the digital liaison as a crutch.
This post is brought to you by Andy Kowl via Publishing Executive.