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Today’s Advertising Sales: Not for the Faint-Hearted - 6/16/2009 -

By Scott D. Oser

"Advertising sucks.”

I DID NOT WRITE THAT JUST FOR THE SHOCK VALUE and to get your attention. This was actually one of the first comments voiced at the roundtable discussion I facilitated at the June 4th Association Media & Publishing Conference in Washington, DC.

After we got past the bold statement that started us off, the brave souls who sat at the table had a really good conversation about the trials and tribulations of selling ads in the current climate. Here are some of highlights of our discussion:

  1. Not everyone is in the same boat. Plenty of associations are having challenges on the ad sales side of things—but not all of them. At the table we had representation from a publication that was down 20 percent, one that was down about 10 percent, and one that was actually breaking even compared to revenues from the prior year. It is important to note that the publications that were down year-on-year had enough market data to know that this decrease was not as bad as what the publications of their main competitors were seeing. If they could not feel good about the shrinking revenue, at least they could feel good about doing better than the other pubs in their space.
  2. We found theories for declining sales. Decreases in revenue were attributed to two reasons:

(1) Less new business coming in.

(2) Regular advertisers cutting frequency, size or both.

  1. Working with the editorial staff is critical to create content that supports ad sales. Association publishers are finding more ways to maintain editorial integrity even while keeping advertising potential in mind. Some examples that give advertisers something to bite into and focus on include special issues, themed issues, and advertorials.
  2. Forming relationships with industry partners and providing exemplary customer service for these companies is critical. Many of the associations are doing things like resizing ads, designing ads, extending deadlines, and more to keep advertisers happy. These are things that they would never have done in the past because they cost time and resources: two things that are typically limited at associations.

Two services were mentioned that could potentially save ad sales reps time—MagazineRadar and Inquiry Management Systems (IMS)—which allow you to easily track ad data for competitive pubs and top prospects.

  1. None of the associations at the table currently have an electronic version of their magazine. All of them were thinking about it and were intrigued but realize that having an electronic publication needs to be a strategic decision driven by the readers as well as the advertisers.

Although advertising sales is a topic of concern for all association publishers, the conversation at our table was very lighthearted and enjoyable. Most associations have the benefit of offering multiple ways to reach their audiences (in addition to advertising) that generate revenue and form relationships with industry partners. From my perspective, the smart ones are putting packages together that include advertising and then funneling revenue over to the advertising bottom line, even though it is not a straight ad buy.

Scott D. Oser is president of Scott Oser Associates, Inc. SNAP thanks him for volunteering to cover the Advertising Roundtable at the recent Association Media & Publishing Conference in Washington, DC for the benefit of those members who were unable to attend this year.


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