Get to know Al Rickard, CAE, president of Association Vision, a firm that helps associations strengthen their digital and print content delivery and generate nondues revenue. Here, Rickard talks about the challenges of selling advertising to ad agencies.
Q: Is selling advertising through an
ad agency more difficult than going to the client directly?
Rickard: Ad agencies are a very important
part of the selling process, but selling to a client through their ad agency is
more work because each agency has its own system and process. It takes longer
to make the sale, and it is harder to reach the decision maker in following up.
Q: Can you provide some examples of what can make the selling process more work through an ad agency?
sales reps often complain about the gigantic EXCEL spreadsheets that an agency
may ask them to fill out with information that is already in the publication’s
media kit. Some of these spreadsheets are so vast and complicated, it takes a
lot of time to regurgitate information that’s already available to them
elsewhere. A sales rep can spend days filling out several spreadsheets’ worth
of information and crafting a response to the agency’s request for integrated
products and special deals.
We certainly don’t mind doing the
work to get the sale. I’ll admit that it can be a little frustrating though if
the agency asks you to go through this process every year, and then they buy
the same one page of advertising that they’ve bought for the last three years.
Q: That sounds like a slippery slope
for associations. Sometimes an association publication’s numbers like CPM or
circulation audits might not measure up to larger B2B publications. How do you
sell around that?
Rickard: I work hard to have a live
conversation with an ad agency buyer because they often are newer professionals
who are trying to justify their recommendations based on the numbers. If the
agency buyer seems to be paying a lot of attention to circulation audits, I
explain to them the association dynamic. Associations have direct relationships
with their readers and their advertisers, and an agency buyer should take that
into consideration when comparing an association magazine with a smaller
circulation to a larger B2B publication serving the same industry with a larger
Q: Are there any other challenges
you face when selling through an ad agency?
Rickard: It can be difficult to build a
meaningful relationship with an ad agency buyer because they turnover every
year or two. And sometimes you have to deal with one office for sales, another
for materials, and another for invoicing.
Q: What’s an example of a situation
where having an agency involved is an asset?
Rickard: One that comes to mind is in the
sale of a digital component to an advertiser’s ad program. An advertiser may
not fully understand the dynamics of digital products, but the agencies usually
do. Advertisers are interested in unique views and click-throughs, but the
problem is they have a number in their head of how many click-throughs are "good,”
and that number may not be realistic.
example, if your association e-newsletter has a 60,000 circulation and a 30 percent
open rate, the advertiser expects hundreds of click-throughs. When it’s only 15
or 20, it makes them rethink their advertising plan. The ad agencies can
explain how digital advertising works, which is a help to us.
When I talk to a client about
digital advertising, I like to point out that a click-through only means that
the potential buyer was ready to take action the moment they saw the ad. It
doesn’t mean that the rest of the readers who saw they ad aren’t interested.
Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media
& Publishing. Don’t miss the feature article on what influences ad agency
buyers’ decision making, "A Fighting Chance,” in the May/June 2014 issue of