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RFP for Ad Sales? Not Necessarily a Good Idea - 2/11/2014 -

Jim Elliott
Get to know Jim Elliott, president of  James G. Elliott Co., Inc. A long-time member and supporter of Association Media & Publishing and head of the largest national magazine advertising sales outsourcing firm, Jim shares some ideas to help associations improve the search process when they are looking for new ad sales representation.

By Carla Kalogeridis

Sidebar: What makes the RFP process different when associations are looking for ad sales services versus any other vendor search?

Elliott: When an association hires an ad sales firm, they are hiring someone to represent them in the field the association serves. Since your ad sales rep will be calling on your members and customers ó both on the phone, via email, and face-to-face ó the decision over which firm to go with needs to be based on much more than price.

The challenge comes when associations use the same basic RFP process to vet out ad sales firms as they use for finding a printer or some other supplier. The needs are very different. The ad sales firm is an extension of the association. Many of your members and customers will believe that the ad sales representative is an employee of the association ó thatís just one reason that it is critical that the search process be more finely tuned to the associationís needs.

Sidebar: What are the steps leading up to the search process?

Elliott: First, the association must be clear on what kind of representation it is looking for, and this needs to be done long before the organization sends out a mass RFP. The association needs to determine the specifics of the job to be done.

Then, once that is clear, the association should meet with different firms face-to-face. I would suggest meeting with one small firm, one big firm, and maybe one or two in different geographical areas. Meet with as many ad sales providers as you can. Remember, you will be in the trenches with this team, so itís important that you like them, too.

Meeting with them in advance will save both you and the sales rep firms a lot of time because then you will know who to invite to submit a response to your RFP.

Sidebar: Who should the association ask to meet with?

Elliott: Meet with the owner or president. Go straight to the top. Most of these firms are not very large, and the top executive will know very quickly if itís going to be a good fit.

Sidebar: What are some of the questions that the association should ask the ad sales firm?

Elliott: Ask what their turnover is like because you ó and your customers -- donít want to adapt to a new sales rep every year. Find out how long they have been in business, and ask if they are financially sound enough to take on your association as a client and to invest in the sales process until revenue starts coming in. Ask to see a client list and ask who is their biggest client. If that big player goes away, will they still be in business?

I would also think about what needs you may have in the future, such as digital and mobile, and see if the firm provides, or can provide, those kinds of services.

Sidebar: What is the most important thing for associations to remember when looking for new ad sales representation?

Elliott: They can save themselves a lot of time if they think of hiring a professional advertising firm differently than they approach a more commoditized need. Personally, I would never do an RFP process for an ad sales firm. Instead, I would do a little research, narrow down my list, and then send a request for a meeting and a list of information that I want the firm to prepare for our discussion.

Many times, an associationís board or charter requires the organization to send out a mass RFP for every vendor or service needed. But this is largely a waste of time and definitely not the best approach to take when hiring an advertising sales firm. Associations should take a look at their RFP process now and get approval from the board to change it, if necessary, before the need to search for an ad sales firm comes up.

Editorís note: Donít miss Signature magazineís feature article in the May/June 2014 issue on how to optimize your search for advertising sales representation, complete with an updated checklist on what questions to ask and how to know which firm or representative is right for you. If youíd like to participate in this story by sharing your associationís experiences in finding the right ad sales representation, contact Carla Kalogeridis, editorial director, Signature magazine.

Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. If youíd like to be interviewed for Sidebar ó or know of someone else who always has an interesting perspective or opinion on association communications and publishing ó send us your suggestion.


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