Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nuts and bolts: maximizing online ad sales on newspaper sites

There being no newspaper bankruptcy, fire sale, layoff, frequency reduction or shutdown news (yet) today, I've been pondering what newspapers should do in the coming year to maximize their sales of online advertising. Anything they accomplish in that direction will help position them better for the day they follow the Detroit papers and begin, one way or another, to curtail print delivery. Or when print readership just melts away of its own accord. So here goes:

1. Lead with the DotCom brand. Publishers: take out your wallet and check your business card. And have a look at the cards your salespeople hand out. What's more prominent: the name of your newspaper, or the name of your web site (if it's even listed on there)? If the biggest element on the card is not your online brand, confiscate all the cards and replace them. Do the same thing with all other printed or online sales materials, rate cards, media kits, whatever. In other words, make sure your graphic message is: we are first and foremost an online news and marketing organization.

2. Don't separate online and print sales staffs. Many papers have flip-flopped on this question for years, but a staff with expertise in both areas will be most successful in maximizing revenue. Sure, in a larger paper or group you need some online specialists. But don't test clients' limited time by sending in two separate reps—teach reps to craft and sell the appropriate mix of print and online for each client.

3. Research how your customers use the Web. You expect them to use your site. When's the last time you looked at theirs? What's their web marketing strategy? How can you plug into it and enhance it? Look at big advertisers, look at small advertisers, and look at non-advertisers in the "Long Tail." You'd be surprised how many businesses, even the smallest, have invested in sophisticated web sites. But how's their traffic, compared to competitors? Research them by investing in a premium version of a traffic comparison service like Alexa or Compete. Do they show up in appropriate searches? Do they have plenty of inbound links? (Find out with a simple "link:[URL]" Google search.) Chances are that a retailer's site is like a billboard in the jungle: nobody can find it, nobody sees it, and nobody can point to it (and nobody hears it when it falls down). There's opportunity in pointing this problem out and showing what you can do to fix it.

4. Train salespeople, designers and customers alike. Training print reps (if it happened at all) used to be a piece of cake compared with what it takes to trainweb salesmanship. Your all-media reps need to be expertly conversant in web terminology, technology, traffic statistics, ad formats, clickthrough rates, pricing structures and more. Train and retrain, since the picture shifts just about daily. Remember that some of the old imperatives like the value of multiple brand exposures are still key in the online ad game. Consider bringing in a speaker like Mel Taylor to talk to a gathering of advertisers, as well as to energize your reps about online sales. Include your designers in as much of the training as you can, so they understand both the marketing and the design sides of the equation. Communicate frequently with customers via an e-newsletter.

5. Invest in the technology. It can be tough to pry loose a few bucks for capital expenditures these days, but you need to keep up with the latest tools for designing and publishing web ads of all kinds. If your sales reps aren't taking a laptop along on every sales call, buy them one for Christmas. Make sure it's equipped with both WiFi and a way to demonstrate options where they can't go online. In most cases, this won't cost more than a week's worth of ad commissions. (Capability to do order entry from the field would be nice, too.)

6. Make sure your sales incentive plan rewards online selling first. I probably hold a record for the number of newspaper sales commission plans I've assembled over 30 years, because I constantly tweaked plans to adjust for changing conditions. If your plan is older than the calendar on your wall, this would be a good time to throw it out and start over as of January 1, 2009. Your reps have a bucket full of things they can sell, and without the right incentive structure they will earn as much money as they want by selling everything but online, if they're so inclined. Be sure that the only way they can make some real money is by hitting targets in multiple categories—for example online, daily print, and niche products. Miss your goal in any category, and you won't earn the higher commission rates on over-goal sales. And be sure goal setting is a rigorous, monthly process the reps participate in.

7. Make it easy for advertisers to do business with you online. A longstanding web mantra, not well observed by newspapers, is that virtually anything customers can do with you in person or by phone should be possible, and easy, online. Think about how you make airline reservations, for example, or explore the Google AdWords site for inspiration—it gets Google billions in revenue with very little human interaction on their part. Or consider your own frustration when you're researching a purchase online and can't find the information you want, or complete a transaction. Remember that there are 168 hours in a week, and your reps are selling for 40, if you're lucky. At any time, day or night, your advertisers should be able to find your marketing materials (not PDFs of rate cards, please—take some time to transform that printed stuff into an effective web format), find answers to questions, place advertising, see and approve proofs, get digital tearsheets, access accounts, and pay bills. (This includes classified advertisers—they're flocking to Craigslist not only because it's free, but because it's easy, compared with the cumbersome classified placement process at many papers.) Be sure also that advertisers can easily find all the contact info they need to communicate with your sales, production and accounting personnel directly. And of course, all of this applies also to customers looking to do business with your circulation and news departments.

Related post: Nuts and bolts: What an "online-first newsroom" means

(Shameless disclosure/commercial message: I'm available to newspaper publishers for consulting on any of the above. )


eclisham said...

Yeah, this is the area we're having the most trouble figuring out, I think. Thanks for these thoughts; I agree with all but one and I would offer one additional observation:

1. On the subject of a separate staff for digital sales, I agree with Gordon Borrell (full disclosure: he was a partner with us in the second Newspaper Next report): newspapers of all sizes MUST have some online-only sales power. Print reps should be trained and should try to sell digital products to their current customers, but they are too busy, especially now, to call on entirely new categories of business that don't place any print advertising with them and that represent perhaps as much as 60% of online growth potential. It's a distraction that they have already figured out will take money out of their pockets so they're not going to bother. You can only cover those new areas with additional sales horsepower. So I would say you need to do both -- get your traditional reps up to speed, and rearrange responsibilities so that you have sufficient digital-only focus.

2. Additional observation: Could we please stop calling them "advertisers" and start calling them "business customers?" This opens up many new possibilities in terms of revenue streams that the word advertising doesn't begin to cover. Following on that thought, and picking up on the job-description point in the online-newsroom post that inspired this one, we should revisit our revenue department job titles and job requirements and competencies to make sure they line up with the needs and goals we'll have going forward.

Anonymous said...

The current weak economy and disappearing online ad sales calls for new and radical thinking about reaching the newspaper's "business customers".
Caliber Data is a new company with an online advertising platform for newspaper's that tracks an online ad click to a resulting in-store purchase and can charge the "business customer" a commission on sales rather than charge on clicks, impressions or other actions that do not have a easily measurable ROI.
It is called Pay Per Transaction. This could be very useful to newspapers trying to 'win' online ad sales.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the world of online advertising.

Your point number 2
If you are only chasing local ad dollars, then I would wholly agree, however if you are actively pursuing Regional and National Brand advertisers, there exists for the most part several media buyers, print, interactive functioning at the same agency within a different division. There are agencies, who do nothing but onlime media, planning on buying.

Not sepearting the teams, is like asking a Radio seller to call on a Print Buyer and a Print Seller to call on an Interactive buyer.

Selling to a particular portion of a marketers media mix and their agency requires a certain amount of specialization.

In point number 3 you mention the "long tail" ironically you are describing most newspaper sites.

Can you bring a critical mass of unique visitors to the table to an advertiser?

CBS Sports, gathers 173 million unique vistors per month upwards of 20 mm 20 mm

Once again, assume you are chasing national advertising dollars. In order for an interactive media buyer to buy reach, he/she needs to put together and deal with far too many media sellers, far too many reports, far too many invoices. If this is starting to sound familiar, thing of any of the national advertising aggregators that most small circ papers have depended on for years for a piece of the national advertising market. The same is true online.

Reach, Targeting, and Quality of Audience all due to content, is the value proposition we bring to bear online. Miss the mark on any of the 3, and the liklihood is that few if any national ad dollars will be generated.

Training is a function of having an open mind when taking it. There are hundreds of online reps who were trained by large Ad Networks such as DoubleClick, and 2/47 back in 1998. Those same reps are now selling Social Media, Google Adwords on a CPC, and whole host of ad platforms, how did the do it. They came to it with an open mind.

So if a Newspaper rep has an open mind, then all is possible. How many of you newspaper reps succeeded moving to the online space, which by the way has been happening for over 10 years now.

islamiyet said...
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david.softech said...
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