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Making the Case for Centralized Ad Sales - 12/15/2009 -

By centralizing ad sales, association executive directors can streamline costs and keep with the general media business environment.

By James G. Elliott

WITH AN ECONOMY STILL IN FLUX, association publishers are facing some of the same issues as consumer and trade publishers. Readers are spending less time with traditional media and more time with the Internet and mobile devices, which offer a 24-hour news cycle and a significantly smaller advertising revenue stream.

But this move to real-time information doesn't mean that association publishers are left out of the loop. On the contrary, association publishers may best be served by increasing their communications to present a wider range of messages to more selected groups.

The most important thing an executive director of an association can do is look at the organization and its broad swath of advertisers across all platforms—magazines, websites, newsletters, events, and affinity relations—and then consider the size and needs of this marketplace. In the past, many association publishers parceled out their marketing duties, with one sales staff for magazines, one for websites, and so on, which now goes against the trend.

The thinking today, which is being embraced by trade and consumer publishers, is to sell advertising in terms of the "brand” or franchise, and to maximize the selling of all the communication assets to the largest set of potential customers. Association executive directors need to ask themselves: Are we set up for this? Restructuring to achieve a singular sales force could cause a short-term, internal disruption, but at the end of the day, it will make the organization much stronger.

Why does a singular sales force for all your media products make sense? Agencies have streamlined, and a media planner or client doesn't want to see three or four people representing essentially the same property. The other reason stems from the premise that it takes the same amount of work to sell a big package as it does to sell a small one. If the association's advertising sales person is selling print, online, events and a newsletter, there's one sales call, one presentation, one decision, and one larger order. It's simply more efficient to sell this way.

"In fact, it makes no sales or marketing sense to split up this sale,” says Dennis Connaughton, general manager at the James G. Elliott Company. "All it really does is pit one salesperson against the other to fight for slices from the same pie.”

By centralizing ad sales, association executive directors can streamline costs and keep with the general media business environment.

"This consolidation is the best practices approach,” agrees Dan Ambrose, media consultant and sales trainer. "Agencies don't have your interests at heart, and if you're selling a complete solution or a big integrated package, you have a better chance to sell directly to the client.”

Sometimes, Less isn't More

Executive directors should also think about the way they communicate with their members. The idea of transferring communication from one media platform to another may not work with the association's members. Directors need to be conscious of how their specific membership receives information and perhaps do some market tests before making major changes.

"Just because I have a positive experience with your magazine doesn't mean I'll have a positive experience with your website,” says Dr. Samir Husni, who is known as "Mr. Magazine” from his work at the University of Mississippi and the Magazine Innovation Center.

While every communication tool should be reviewed, so should the profile of the membership. This is not a time to cut out or change communication methods but rather, a time to communicate more. In fact, with the low costs of newsletters and some print products, directors should consider increasing communication, especially to subsets of its membership. Consider bringing out more ad-bearing products and services like newsletters, directories, custom publications, and webinars, and direct them at selected groups within a membership to increase the value of the association. Adding a newsletter is easy to do, and if you can sell ads in it or sponsorship of it, the extra revenue may allow you to avoid increasing your membership's dues.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) presents an example of this type of communication and marketing. Because the association reaches both brokers and agents for residential properties, it created a special magazine section for brokers only. NAR can now sell two direct communications—one to brokers and one to agents—in addition to selling to the total market.

By directing communication to these separate markets, NAR has even more revenue-generating communication tools and more potential advertisers.

If you are set up for one person to sell all of your assets in one call, there's a greater chance for increased ad revenues. Why? Because as you present an integrated solution to the large clients and agencies, at the same time, you can present more targeted communications to smaller, more vertical audiences.

To be sure that your present sales staff can handle all these duties, offer additional sales training on a regular basis. In addition, find sales people from the trade and consumer side who have experience with integrated selling. There are plenty of qualified individuals around these days.

James G. Elliottis president of James G. Elliott Co. Inc., an independent media sales company with clients in the association, consumer, and trade worlds.


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