That the blood of journalists has been spilt on the cutting room floor, victims of digital media’s inexorable march to media domination, is no secret. Retrenchments, the closure of titles, job losses, the demand for new journalism skills, the juniorisation of newsrooms, the increase in contractors and freelancers… none of this is news to the industry. But what about media owner sales teams? What’s changed in their world?
Quite a lot, it seems. The job of the modern media sales team is a far cry from those days of long, boozy lunches and contracts that ran forever. Where relationships and pats on the back were all that was needed to close the deal. Hard selling is required these days, a switch from “order taking”, as one retired veteran put it.
Of course, relationships are still a vital component of any successful salesperson’s arsenal, but now, in a multi-platform world, where print media declines by the day, some say there are too many sales people, and too few with online sales skills.
Tiso Blackstar is restructuring its sales department, and jobs could be lost in the process. The Group controversially closed its print version of the popular The Times daily on 15 December. The digital Times Select was launched on 1 February.
Reardon Sanderson (left), general manager of sales and marketing, confirmed staff had been informed of the process. The restructuring, he says, is “in line with international practice and is intended to ensure it is properly positioned for the changing media environment,” adding he hoped it would be finalised “by the end of February after a period of consultation. The number of positions affected will form part of that consultation process”.
Sanderson is reluctant to reveal details of the restructure, but says it is being driven by market requirements. “We’ve made great strategic strides, in a relatively short period of time, to keep pace and anticipate future market needs,” he says. “It goes without saying that the solutions we’re delivering to advertisers are enhanced and constantly evolving, and this of course means that our media sales teams have more opportunities with a larger basket of products available.”
His teams have the advantage of working on titles such as the Sunday Times, Sowetan, Business Day and Financial Mail and their respective magazine supplements, Sanderson says, and are helped by the fact that “we’ve been able to successfully extend the presence of these titles into the digital realm with TimesLIVE and BusinessLIVE”.
Nevertheless, he says, teams do need a different set of skills to flourish in this digital realm.
“Our sales ethos is that of a diagnostic, solutions-driven sales approach and is underpinned by sound knowledge of the platforms we own,” says Sanderson. “As a result of our print, digital, and broadcast footprints, it’s incredibly important for sales people to upskill in all these areas, to deliver reach-opportunities that are relevant and appealing to the market.”
This is true of the radio environment too, says Rivak Bunce, CEO of United Stations.
“Radio today is multimedia, multi-platform and convergent,” says Bunce (left). “It differs from the ‘FM era’. It has sound and image, is more interactive, more participatory, shareable, repeatable, searchable, customisable, convergent and on demand. All these factors are strengthening radio’s capacity to create feelings of community among listeners, feelings which can only increase as radio’s content providers become more adept at exploiting the wide array of opportunities.”
Bunce says United Stations has created new ways of working with advertisers across a “diverse portfolio of media that we have assembled to develop cross-media and cross-platform solutions”.
This strategy includes working with management and editorial staff from these platforms to get them “face to face with our advertisers. This sees the effort of our United Stations team, complemented by content creators who can really create value beyond the spot or rate card. We will continue expanding our media offering outside the radio marketplace, to compete for the budgets of other media”.
Sales staff have to be able to sell digital or radio or they’ll miss opportunities to grow revenue, Bunce says. But training is an issue in that what’s on offer is “extremely poor”. Bunce reckons United Stations depends more on their own “seasoned specialists” to upskill teams. “We are maintaining a ‘strategic conversation’ around digital with our entire eco-system of clients, advertisers and some really talented people at our media platforms. Having relationships with traditional media buyers, or simply not being into selling digital, is no longer an excuse. There is too much on the table to set expectations too low,” he says.
Digital sales houses, such as The SpaceStation, also have issues to deal with, says its CEO, Gustav Goosen. “I’ve unfortunately had to retrench twice before due to publications we represented closing down or representation contracts we held couldn’t be sustained by the product offering. It’s unfortunate, but in those instances was unavoidable. Given the constant changes we face, we repurpose roles whenever we believe its necessary,” he says.
Goosen says while previous media and advertising industry experience is still extremely valuable, it’s not enough. “People still buy advertising from people. Even if it’s programmatic. We look for people who will work well within our team dynamic and will work well with clients. We look for digital media expertise. Some sales people have all it takes except deep knowledge of digital media; those we invest in with internal training and development.”
Chief commercial officer of Primedia Broadcasting, Mark Jakins, says the number of media choices has exploded in the last 15 years and media owners can no longer simply understand their medium and industry; they need to understand all of this competition, and to understand the synergies between radio and other media to create multi-platform opportunities. “We need to empower our sales team to consult with clients to solve a business problem rather than just to sell radio,” he says.
Shortage of digital expertise
“There is a strong imperative from clients across all media to provide digital solutions but across the industry there’s a shortage of expertise and specialists who really understand digital and can use it make a meaningful impact from a ROI perspective. Radio and digital are fortunately excellent partners and work together beautifully, but it is a rapidly evolving space, so our sales team needs to be constantly trained on new developments and on the power and potential of integrated campaigns, so that we can offer a solution rather than a platform to our clients,” says Jakins.
The Primedia solution was to “actively build capacity of its Creative Solutions (CS) team who work specifically to help clients to create campaigns that not only stand out but get results. The CS team is integrated into the broader sales team, to continually allow for the skills transfer from the experts to the team”.
Jakins says sales teams are under pressure, but undergo consistent training, from case studies and informal sessions to larger, more formal or facilitated training around issues. “Wherever possible, we try to integrate the training with a real business problem, so that the learning experience also leads to a tangible solution for a client – later this week, we will be running our third edition of a Dragon’s Den style pitch process, where the team has to present a solution to a real client, with a real business problem. The teams have been preparing their pitches for weeks, and we hope that the clients are suitably impressed and take up the opportunities that we will present to them.”
Marc du Plessis (left), joint CEO of SPARK Media, says the media environment has changed in that many being made are procurement driven and not always about strategy. “The current environment is time-stressed, and it’s proving difficult to get in front of clients and agencies due to these pressures,” he says.
As such, the company has adopted different tactics to create opportunities when selling its mediums. “The biggest guiding principle is one of ‘collaboration’ – in other words, to align ourselves as partners to our clients. ‘Back to basics’ is key to our strategy, which includes new business acquisition by ‘pounding the pavements’, as well as through insight sharing. Through constant information sharing, we are able to get in front of our clients more often,” Du Plessis says.
A major part of upskilling the sales team is working through SPARK Media’ sales funnel, a “carefully designed sales programme we have invested in”, and paying attention to time management. “We are also working on how to consistently maintain a sizeable pipeline of new business opportunities, as well as upselling current clients,” he says.
Hugh Wilson, general sales manager of Provantage’s Transit Ads, believes the out of home environment has also been affected by how the public consumes media. With the rise of digital OOH, there has been “a major shift on media strategists’ needs to meet brand communication demands”.
Then, he says, there’s increased choice in terms of advertising platforms “which means more competition not only from direct opposition”. To add to the mix, agency/client business needs have shifted with “more emphasis on turnaround times, valuable insights, innovation and discounts/added value to meet the tightening pressure on media budgets.” This, says Wilson, has “led us to become a better equipped sales team adapt to market expectations”. Still, he has lost staff “due to economic pressure and sales down turn, which forces business to look and things differently and unfortunately this does happen”.
Patrick de Robillard, Outdoor Network’s (a Provantage company) head of sales for billboards, says with the variety of different mediums in the market place, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the current level of client base and ultimately income, and as a result, prices are being driven down. “We have implemented and trained our sales teams on the power of audience by way of introducing measurement tools that will enable them to better justify the exposure that brands receive when on our platforms,” says De Robillard. “With new technology and trained staff, we are now far more equipped to take away/shift spend towards our medium where we now have reach and frequency that can justify why OOH is still a very powerful medium in the industry and even more so today.”
Cross-media sales skills
Cross-media sales people are what everyone is looking for, says Bunce. “Everybody is on the hunt for great cross-media salespeople, so if you know where to find them please let me know. My advice is to find a salesperson that understands solution selling. They should also have a level of resilience as the sales cycle for cross-media can take anywhere from three months to 12 months, depending on the target customer, campaign complexity, and the amount of buy-in from the highest level of decision makers at the advertiser,” he says.
“Ideally each sales person needs to know more than the media buyers at the agencies they’re calling on, so that they can really add value. They need to have equally strong relationships with the digital directors, planners, and the account executives, because this is where key decisions are being made.”
Jakins (left) says Primedia’s sales teams are aided by research and insights. “We have built an extensive database of opted-in research panelists, who we work with to glean bespoke research for certain industries, and even individual clients. We are even able to test adverts on this panel, before they flight, to give clients a chance to tweak, or to select between options before a campaign flights,” he says.
Bunce says the culture of the radio sales department needs to embrace digital. But, he adds, “many of radio’s veteran salespeople are having difficulty with the transition. Salespeople need to be as aware of social media and streaming activity as they are about BRC RAM numbers. Every sales pitch needs to contain a digital component”.
He says United Stations has had to “repurpose roles throughout our organisation and realign the sales structure… so it’s not nearly as dependent on ‘radio’ advertisers”.
Goosen has some words of advice for all: “Digital isn’t singular. It’s multifaceted and multi-layered which can make it complex and people avoiding complexity will opt for the most simplistic, not necessarily the best or the most appropriate. There’s also a continuous influx of new technology and jargon, which clutters the IP available to process and consider. Some jargon is bandied about readily, i.e. data, exchanges, programmatic, viewability, etc., the challenge lies in making sense of the intricacies with which they come, how to enable, how to deploy, how to align or integrate disparate platforms or pieces of technology.”
Sales are sales, he says. “Fair enough. But media sales today are very different to what it was before.”