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Why Ad Agencies Can Be a Tougher Sell - 5/7/2014 -

Al Rickard
By Carla Kalogeridis

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?

Rickard: Advertising 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 publicationís media kit. Some of these spreadsheets are so vast and complicated, it takes a lot of time to regurgitate information thatís already available to them elsewhere. A sales rep can spend days filling out several spreadsheetsí worth of information and crafting a response to the agencyís request for integrated products and special deals.

We certainly donít mind doing the work to get the sale. Iíll 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 theyíve bought for the last three years.

Q: That sounds like a slippery slope for associations. Sometimes an association publicationís 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 circulation.

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: Whatís 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 advertiserís 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,Ē and that number may not be realistic.

For 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 itís 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 doesnít mean that the rest of the readers who saw they ad arenít interested.

Carla Kalogeridis is editorial director of Association Media & Publishing. Donít miss the feature article on what influences ad agency buyersí decision making, "A Fighting Chance,Ē in the May/June 2014 issue of Signature magazine.


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