Foreign Policy Ad Exec: Salespeople Must Be Smart, Nimble & Consultative
In recent years Foreign Policy has transitioned from a niche, academic magazine into a global brand that serves international leaders in business, government, finance, and the academic world. “Our vision is to cover the world for the people who are leading it,” explains VP of advertising sales Duc Luu. The shift in strategy has led to significant audience growth for the publication, averaging 2.5 million unique visitors a month, and expansion to new digital platforms. It also has necessitated a shift in how Foreign Policy sells to advertisers.
“The sales process is more about finding and creating insights,” explains Luu. “What that means in terms of the sales interactions is that we actually lead now with insights about global and economic trends instead of a rate card. Then we describe what our capabilities are to help advertisers connect with a very select and highly coveted audience.”
Instead of selling one-off advertising deals to a large amount of advertisers, Foreign Policy is selling large, multi-platform campaigns to a select group of partners. Luu uses a recent partnership with the Embassy of Japan as an example: Last year, the magazine launched an event in Washington D.C. to discuss the future of the U.S.-Japanese relationship, which the Embassy of Japan sponsored. Leading up to that event, Foreign Policy created a branded content platform on its own site dedicated to covering news about Japan. Foreign Policy also promoted the new content vertical across social media and through digital advertising. And finally the embassy sponsored content in the print magazine. The goal of this campaign was for the Embassy of Japan to lead the conversation about U.S. and Japanese relations among a highly targeted audience, says Luu.
“What matters for us isn’t necessarily the platform. It’s more solving the clients’ problems and helping them reach the audience in a different way,” says Luu.
Following Luu explains how the media sales world has changed in light of new technology and platforms and how the most successful salespeople have adapted to excel.
What skills do media salespeople need to be successful today?
We’re fundamentally looking for smart media salespeople. That breaks down in a couple different ways. Salespeople need to be smart and understand what these big trends are and identify opportunities for the companies to latch onto these trends. Then we have to be able to quickly research the companies and understand what they care about, what their needs are, what are the future changes that are going to impact them, and what are the kind of campaigns that we can run that play to our strengths.
You also have to be knowledgeable about the media world and how the media world is changing. You have to be creative about the solutions that we’re then offering our advertisers and our sponsors.
Finally, being a good salesperson also means knowing how to put the clients’ interests at heart. We put the clients’ interest first by knowing what to recommend in terms of the media plan, and knowing when to shift media plans potentially mid-stream if we see one unit or component is performing better.
What are some of the challenges you and your team face when selling these large campaigns?
For us there are two big challenges. The first is overcoming the idea of Foreign Policy as this niche magazine that only looks at academic foreign policy debates. So when we approach prospects with all of these different capabilities, we need to help them overcome this perception of us as just a print magazine. We need to wow potential partners with our reader data, with our capabilities across multiple platforms, with our innovative partnerships we’ve developed so that they have to stop and rethink their perception of us.
Number two: we have to find the right advocate within an organization that’s going to be our partner. Because when we’re creating these big packages we have to create a budget where there was none before. That requires us to zero in on the exact person who we think is going to be our internal advocate in the organization and be smart about what our partner’s limits are, what their challenges are, what their budget is, and what their future budget might be. We’re treating this more as a consultative sale than an ad sale.
What’s the balance between branded content versus more traditional ad offerings?
The traditional ad offerings are still a part of it. They have to be. Digital and print advertising are still fundamentally a part of how we reach our audiences. But a lot of the campaigns we’re doing are thought leadership campaigns where we’re reaching audiences that are the world elite. It’s about driving people to thought leadership content and creating brand awareness.
How is your sales team incorporating data into the sales process?
Good audience data is at the core of how we pitch all of our capabilities. They are incorporated into all sales presentations, pitches, and proposals.
An area where we have fantastic data is our 1.3 million registered users. Registered users give us information to access up to five articles a month on the site for free. And we have paid readers too. We’re able to do lots of audience targeting, targeting C-suites or specific sectors for advertisers.
The other thing we’ve done well is show advertisers more demographic data. We’ll use audience research surveys to measure our audiences. We’re running a survey right now on Foreign Policy to understand global investors and understand what are the geopolitical risks and opportunities that are affecting their investment portfolios. That will guide us in creating investment content. That’s also another way that we’re able to get better data and help advertisers get very specific about the kind of people they’re trying to reach.
Once the sale has been made, we need to be very smart about the data to optimize campaigns. We have a new partnership with Moat Analytics to help drive ad performance and improve viewability. Many campaigns are bought and sold on viewability basis so we’ve optimized our site to be able to handle viewability campaigns so that the ads are 100% viewable. We’re working with Moat Analytics to use heat maps to understand where people are clicking and drive better click-through rates and improve viewability.
What advice do you have for media salespeople to improve their careers?
There are two things that media salespeople always have to do. Number one, you always have to be the smartest person in the room about your client, about what they need, how their business is, what their campaign is doing, and what they could be doing better so that you are a true thought partners and not an ad salesperson.
The second thing is keeping up to date on the latest trends and technology in the ad world so that you’re able to make better recommendations to the ad ops team about how we can drive better performance for our advertisers. You have to be resourceful about what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in media, and being a good salesperson and keeping your clients’ interest at heart. I think if you do that, you’ll have a good career in the media world.