Why Publishers Need a Digital Liaison for Selling Online Advertising
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.
*The idea of a “$500 digital ad” was one I questioned, since that reflects a banner ad focus. I believe we must look to “program sales” for digital, with creative elements in addition to banner ads. It is fine to roll online sales in with print, as long as it is not in the old way of using it as an excuse to virtually give away banners. You must create digital products of value where the idea of selling anything for $500 is unheard of.
Dohrn sees “multiple touch points, in multiple ways on multiple days” as what should be our new guiding principle. He sees sponsored content as a primary component along with social media impressions you can provide.
Addendum: On Publishers
Now that Time announced ditching the title of publisher, the predictable chatter has begun about whether that title is obsolete. Publisher is a title I have worn proudly since I was a kid and I am sad to see it go. The first shot was when I realized a dozen years ago that I had more accurately been an information designer and distributor. But what the hell does that mean, so I stuck with publisher.
In the 80’s, led by Time Inc. and other giants, the publisher title became the equivalent of chief ad salesperson. As that pattern was adopted broadly, I’ve lamented with other old publishers about this. Many of us had an editorial background; I had both. We couldn’t help but wonder how an “ad guy” could captain a ship where content -- more importantly, connecting with an audience -- was the chief success factor. Were ad guys going to be running editorial? If not, were they really publishers?
In the 18th century, printers were the publishers. You needed a press and, conversely if you had a press, you needed stuff to print. Printer equaled Publisher. My favorite character from history, Ben Franklin, began his career as a Printer/Publisher. He went on to do a few other things of note, such as inventing bifocals, lightning rods, wood-burning stoves, the U.S. postal service, volunteer fire departments, weather forecasting, lending libraries, and discovering electricity. He also found time to be a founding father of the United States of America. In the end, Franklin wanted a simple statement on his headstone: Benjamin Franklin, Printer.
Andy Kowl is a journalist and entrepreneurial publisher with more than 30 years developing, marketing and growing publishing companies. He is senior vice president of publishing strategy for ePublishing Inc., the leading enterprise publishing system (EPS) provider which manages content, audience data, workflow, newsletters and e-commerce for hundreds B2B online publications. He helps publishers increase reader engagement and response by integrating behavioral data with contextual content, and shows them direct ways to monetize the results. Andy writes the B2B Beat blog for Publishing Executive magazine. His background in B2B includes publishing, editing and/or owning magazines and information products covering specialty retail, horse breeding, real estate, credit unions, Wall Street compliance and wireless technology.