5 Ways Editorial & Sales Should Work Together
Getting editorial and sales in sync is a nut many publishers are trying to crack. Too often in publishing, an us-versus-them culture dominates when it comes to sales and editorial, even though everyone has the same goal of growing a successful business.
My heart is still in editorial, where I spent 13 years of my career as reporter and editor, but as both publisher and editor-in-chief of Credit Union Times, I have a unique perspective of the pressures faced by both sides.
It’s crucial to figure out the right balance between editorial and sales interests. Give too much on the editorial side, you lose integrity and possibly audience. Soften too much on the sales side, you lose revenue.
Here are five tips for improving sales and editorial collaboration.
1. Create a single business strategy. Study the top issues for your audience. Use your industry knowledge, data tools, and reader surveys to determine the top three or so issues. For our audience of credit union executives it’s keeping up with technology/cybersecurity, compliance, and developing new revenue streams.
Then determine your top growing advertising segments. Payments and software/technology vendors top the charts for CU Times.
The overlap is your sweet spot for cooperation. Credit union executives—our readers—need information and practical assistance with cybersecurity. Vendors of those products—our advertising clients—need leads, which are the credit union executives that need the vendors’ services. Our job is to connect the two parties so they can both be successful.
For example, we just started using a virtual trade show platform, and because there’s so much information about cybersecurity we created a virtual conference called Data Breach Defense. We had nearly 450 registrants sign up and new, unbudgeted sponsorship revenue to boot. We are scheduled to repeat the event this fall, and we already have returning and new sponsors jockeying for the premium sponsorships.
2. Establish a healthy dynamic between sales and editorial. Great ideas can come from anywhere, editorial or sales, clients or audience members. Editorial shouldn’t be too quick to brush off an idea simply because it comes from sales, and vice versa. We all have a duty to each other to keep the business healthy, profitable and growing, which requires that we continue to create useful, quality content for readers while supporting that content creation with the necessary revenue.
Last year a client wanted to do a study on how many credit unions were ready for EMV by the compliance deadline. (EMV refers to the security chip in the credit cards you’re probably using.) CU Times editorial already wanted the same answer, and no one else had it.
Editorial developed questions, which we brought back to the client for review. Based on their suggestions, which were editorially sound, we changed a few questions and pushed out the survey. CU Times retained first right to publish, even though we shared the raw data results with the client. All we promised was to cite an executive from the client in the article and, as we would anyway for full disclosure, that they had funded it. The editorial content was entirely up to us; we could interview competitors and anyone else we wanted.
CU Times readers got the benefit of exclusive, proprietary data that garnered more than 3,000 page views, the client got business intel about three weeks before anyone else, and we earned new, unbudgeted revenue.
3. Set expectations for editorial integrity. I’ve had a publisher who demanded that we distribute a list of advertisers to editorial and told me they would be our first calls for interviews. I promptly told him, “No.”
I’ve worked with a sales guy who complained about editorial killing his sales only to be replaced by someone who doubled revenue in essentially the same territory in less than two years without any editorial change. We’ve also had an editor who walked into a sales meeting and proceeded to scream at the sales team to leave the edit staff completely alone.
After I became publisher, two of our three salespeople left the company. When I was hiring replacements, I asked candidates about their philosophy toward working with editorial; those without the proper respect for editorial were not considered for the job. On the editorial side, I promoted our DC reporter to executive editor, in part, because she had a background in marketing and business development so she had some understanding of sales.
Hiring strategically and setting expectations internally is critical, but so is setting external expectations. I had a long-term client just a few months ago who threatened to pull his advertising because we didn’t run a press release his organization published. I tried to explain the usual determination process, and he was having none of it. When I told this person (whom I considered a work friend for the last decade) that I was disappointed, he completely lost it, peppering every sentence with several f-bombs. He eventually wore himself out, and I told him that what he did with his advertising dollars was up to him. We kept the revenue. No, it doesn’t always work out that way, but CU Times is the leader in our market because we don’t play that game.
4. Cooperate proactively with mutual respect. Our sales team is invited to CU Times’ annual editorial meeting so they can learn about the industry. They use that knowledge not only to provide them with talking points with clients but also to help identify sales targets. Prior to becoming publisher, as editor-in-chief, I went on some sales calls with our best clients to talk shop prior to the marketing discussions.
One of the questions that I’ve heard editorial bemoan is, “How do we get sales people to read the publication?” There was even talk of imposing quizzes on sales people about the content. I’m not in favor of that for two reasons. First, if your sales team isn’t constantly learning about your industry, you have a bigger problem that a quiz won’t fix. And, second, while they should have a working knowledge to get through some small talk, their primary expertise is selling. Editors and reporters aren’t quizzed on sales techniques or what a particular client spends. Expecting the reverse unfair.
I find it useful to update editorial monthly on our revenue numbers and any special projects. Our client services manager lets editorial know when certain topics on our site are sponsored, so if an article could be tagged either “marketing” or “mobile,” editorial tags it with the sponsored topic to drive the required traffic.
Publishers must also build credibility with the editorial team to genuinely acknowledge the content they provide as the foundation of the business. When editorial is referred to as the expense side of the business, it kills your credibility.
5. Set up workflows for innovation.
I do most of the initial liaising on projects between sales and editorial, though there are times when others in editorial are involved. For example, a client came to us and wanted to launch a program that would grab the attention of young credit union executives.
Back in 2011, we came up with Trailblazers 40 Below, which included an editorial microsite with features on our T40B winners, nominated by readers each month and selected by editorial. The program also included an online mentor program, social media handles, and more. Over the three years it was sponsored, the program earned more than our average client spend and spawned a 2013 spinoff, Not for CEOs, for even more. Although T40B is no longer sponsored, editorial keeps up the feature articles.
Ultimately, to be successful, editorial and sales need to work together to find their way to “yes.” It must be achieved without either side demanding anything beyond respect. Certainly sales should know the industry they’re serving, but they will never have the grasp that editorial has. There’s nothing wrong with an editor going to a meeting to provide the client a 50,000-foot overview of industry trends they’re seeing, then backing away from the marketing part of the conversation. But definitely listen: It can be eye-opening, not only to the pressures your sales colleagues face, but also to hearing the client’s needs and potentially creating an entirely new editorial product that meets readers’ needs and generates revenue. Editorial and sales are experts in their own areas of the business, and both are working to the best of their abilities to win the game. Cooperation between editorial and sales is the ringer.