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Selling Advertising in Today’s Tightening Market - 9/2/2008 -

By Diane Rusignola

ACROSS THE ASSOCIATION PUBLISHING INDUSTRY, BUDGETS ARE GETTING TIGHT; unfortunately, everything about the advertising environment—the revenue source many associations rely upon—seems to be getting even tighter. If you've begun working on your 2009 budget, chances are you're already contemplating how to compete for next year's advertising dollars. As discouraging as the picture may be, two advertising experts addressing SNAP's Washington, DC Lunch & Learn session on August 26th said that if associations keep an eye on emerging trends, they'll emerge with a competitive edge.

Association publishing and advertising professionals Carrie Hartin and Scott Oser identified six such trends for the SNAP member audience during a presentation titled, Overview of the Advertising Environment. Along with moderator Lisa Junker, deputy editor for ASAE & The Center for Association Leadership, they presented their ideas and then opened the floor to discussion among attendees. (Editor's note: For complete highlights from this Lunch & Learn, please visit our Lunch & Learn page.
Changing Commitments

With money short on all sides of the table, you may find yourself working to keep even your most loyal advertisers. Oser, president of Scott Oser Associates, Inc., stresses the importance of continually cultivating relationships with advertisers, especially in a tight market. And since they still may want to cancel on you, it's imperative to lay out your expectations in advance.

"You need a rep who's focused on your core,” Oser notes. "If your advertisers are only committing for six months but they've done 12 in the past, you need to ask the right questions.”

In addition, Oser emphasizes the importance of knowing your audience– which may extend beyond your membership. When selling your publication to a potential advertiser, a deep understanding of your publication's readership is a key selling factor.

Increasing Ad Options

Between your association's website and likely multiple e-newsletters, your print publication is no longer the only place you can look to for valuable advertising revenue.

Hartin, chief operating officer (COO) for Network Publications, Inc., says that when it comes to web ads, it's essential to know your analytics. "There's higher turnover with the web, so your advertisers are going to want to see that this is an effective place for them to be,” she explains.

One attendee wondered about the effectiveness of having a staff member dedicated to new media advertising options, while another staffer focuses only on print; however, both Oser and Hartin agreed that when it comes to associations, it's not usually a great idea. "If you're Time Magazine, that's one thing. But in the association world, budgets, contracts, and the like are all going to be the same across the board,” Hartin says.

"One person can be flexible, and in this market, flexibility really counts,” Oser adds.

Coming from a print background, Oser says that he has a slightly different opinion about web advertising than most. He believes that print ads are always going to bring in the most revenue, and online and alternative ads are simply the icing on the cake. He suggests a multifaceted sales approach, pointing out that when association publications press their advertising customers as to why they want to advertise online, they often don't know. In the end, he says that it's all about marketing your publication correctly. If you are the expert in the industry, advertisers will go to you– regardless of whether they end up in print or on the web.

Print Ad Pricing

Even with all the new media options available, your print publication likely will remain your bread and butter. So, what techniques will draw in advertisers the best?

The Lunch & Learn attendees agreed that rate card integrity is the ideal way to go, but association publishers should offer incentives along the way. Set a deadline and promote your 2009 rates now, and you're sure to bring people in for cheaper rates. "Part of the point of the discount is that they commit to you and your publication up front, so they're being rewarded,” Oser says.

Without question though, advertisers should lose their rate protection if they sign on for a certain number of issues and then back out early. Be clear with them in your policies and procedures (on your insertion order, on the back of your rate card, and online) that they will be short-rated if they don't fulfill their commitment to you. (Editor's note: Don't miss SNAP's Sept/Oct 2008 Association Publishing interview with business etiquette expert, Peggy Post, who addresses this scenario and provides a script on how to handle it. Not sure you're currently receiving Association Publishing magazine? Contact Lindsay Fiesthumel at lfiesthumel@snaponline.org.)

Trends in Marketing

When it comes to media kits, an online presence and a format easy for emailing are the best ways to go. Design something that has flexibility– a smaller PDF that can be easily opened and passed around, Hartin suggests.

One attendee mentioned that her association uses Magnet Mail (www.realmagnet.com/magnetmail/index.html), a system that sends broadcast messages without clogging members' inboxes, and even includes tracking capabilities. Other discussion among attendees noted the importance of having both high- and low-res versions of your media kit, as well as breaking them out into smaller PDFs of individual pages, since advertisers may ask you to email them only specific information.

Another piece of good advice: "You must have contact information on every single page,” Oser says. "Once you get your information out there, you want to make sure it's easy for advertisers to get back to you right away.”

Content Opportunities

Another effective tool for attracting advertisers in a tight market is to continually produce new and unique places for content; Oser says advertorials are a great place to begin. "Paid product placement is okay in movies and television, so why not in a publication's editorial?” Oser suggests.

Bonus distribution opportunities (at conferences, for example) will always appeal to advertisers, so why not include in-depth articles about various vendors who are also your potential advertisers? Despite what you may have heard to the contrary, it's possible to do this and not sell your publication's soul, Hartin and Oser insist. "Call your advertisers and let them know what you're doing, and if they don't want to buy an ad in this issue, at least they've warmed up to you,” Oser says.

Competitive Analysis

If all else seems to be failing, take a closer look at your competitors. There may be increased opportunity for you if publications that you compete with are struggling themselves, and perhaps moving to web-only versions. Always read your competitors' magazines and go after their advertisers; tell them why you are different and better.

Lunch & Learn attendee Carrie Addington, national ad director for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) in McLean, Va., mentioned a new vendor her association has been using– a Canadian company called IMS (www.ims.ca). For about $3,000 a year, Addington says IMS will compare your magazine against your biggest competitors and determine exactly which advertisers you're missing out on.

When it comes down to it though, surviving in a tight advertising market is linked directly to your association publication's ability to build strong relationships. "There's a difference between transactional (reactive) marketing and relationship (proactive marketing),” Oser points out, "and marketing should always be more proactive. Why do you think Coke continues to advertise in print? You have to build those relationships.”

Times are certainly tough, and you may have no choice but to live with a downscale in your advertising. However, when things go back up, you need to come out on top. The experts' final advice? Regardless of your current budget, Hartin and Oser agree that the smart plan is to invest, in any way you can now, for a strong 2009.

Diane Rusignola is assistant editor for the Association of Corporate Counsel's ACC Docket. Special thanks to her for volunteering to cover the August 26th Lunch & Learn for those SNAP members unable to attend.


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