Sunday, July 06, 2008

What ails sales? One ad vet's view

In this guest commentary, advertising sales veteran Janet DeGeorge says "change" is a "dirty word" at most newspapers. She is the president of Classified Executive Training & Consulting.

By Janet DeGeorge

Newspaper advertising revenue is down because most advertising departments have not changed the way they do business in 50 years. Well, probably 100 years.

They have not changed the confusing and bloated way they charge customers for advertising, they have not changed the organizational structures or goal setting procedures for their sales staff, they have not changed how they manage their managers, often pitting them against each other instead of focusing on customer needs.

The lack of imagination in the way many newspapers run their online products and advertising is boring users to run to other places for their advertising needs.

Their dealings with generic employment products like HotJobs has lost them both their bread and butter employment advertisers as well as their strong key categories such as Medical.

Are you still waiting for Hotjobs to save your classified employment? Even as top Yahoo management is jumping ship? HotJobs is a good search engine, but you have to take care of your own market your own way.

But even internally, the often times hostile relationships between print and online, instead of working miracles together, downgrade both products.

To be successful you need a stimulating product, a motivated sales force and management that respond to customers needs by being committed to ADVERTISING RESULTS.

And that takes change. Opps…dirty word. I dropped the "C" bomb, sorry.

Top outside sales reps run after $35 special section ads instead of $3,500 employment display, call center reps outbound call on one time advertisers instead of seeking out year long advertisers, online sales forces sell against their own print products often dissing print and creating a whole lot of switch business.

And self promotion? There is none.

I just worked with a paper that expenses 10% of classified revenue to promotion each month. They are a 400k circ paper, 140 people in the classified call center busy from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., an extraordinary array of 13 money-making websites with an internet staff of 120 people. They own their market and are on top of their game.

Their advertising managers all have advanced degrees, know how to work the numbers, continually improve their product (they are getting redesigned at this moment by Brass Tacks Design), continually monitor their staff for excellence, have ongoing staff promotions and training.

Where is this paper? In Bogotá, Columbia. They own their market even with as many Internet competitors as we have in the United States.

Newspaper advertising in the U.S. is in quicksand and instead of reaching out for the rope right in front of their nose and pulling themselves out, they keep throwing their hands wildly in the air and sink deeper and deeper.

Common sense has left the building.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah ha! And i thought ad sales were down because no one reads newspapers anymore. Thanks for the insight, but i think the issue truly is deeper and more systemithan this commentary reflects

3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said "no one" reads the newspaper? I think around 50 million households would disagree with that statement.


10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Alan: I have a completely off-the-wall idea, but why should not a consortium of newspapers be put together and buy Yahoo? Newspapers are in such bad straits they have to do something really dramatic, and here's an opportunity to strangle Google to death. After a Yahoo purchase, they could declare their copyrighted material off-limits to Google, since Yahoo would be part of their company. Without the news feeds, Google would be bereft of a lot of content. Once control of news content is regained, then advertisements, etc follow as day follows night. It's a variation of the old forget about going after their hearts and minds, and instead grab their balls. I think newspapers are in such bad shape they have to do something dramatic or else it is fade to black.

11:50 AM  
Blogger knowledges33ker said...


Nice post. I recently left a newspaper after working there for five years. Right now, I'm (mostly) pursuing an advanced degree in professional writing and new media. This combination of experience coupled with a passion for newspapers has led me to develop a healthy interest in the media shift that's happening right now as readers migrate from the printed newspaper product to online, and often non-newspaper sources of information.

I think you are on the mark with a lot of the points you make in your blog post. The model is broken because it hasn't changed for far too long ... although I don't think that's necessarily confined to theadvertising department.

Something more is happening here than the typical "innovators dilemma" --- that mature businesses find it nearly impossible to reinvent themselves from within. There's something cultural happening as well. The way people want to access and consume information (news and commercial content) is changing.

Advertising content is what affords newspapers the ability to do the reporting that connects to these social changes. If that doesn't get fixed, the essential social function of newspapers will suffer. But is it really as simple as you make it out to be in your post? Newspapers should focus on customer results, work collaboratively instead of in a state of conflict, and focus on recurring streams of revenue from medium-to-large advertisers?

Can you speak a bit to the cultural side of the equation? I think that might be what dan was getting at with his first comment. It's not that newspapers are dead (yet). But they're certainly in a state of financial turmoil and they are loosing readers at a steady pace. Is there a model/solution that can address both of these exigencies?

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post by Ms. DeGeorge. After working with newspapers for 30+ years, it's been proven to me over and over they just don't get it when it comes to dealing with advertisers and ad agencies. Salespeople are content to sit by their fax machines waiting for insertion orders never feeling a need to properly market their product. When you call a newspaper rep you usually get a voice message that goes something like this; "I'm out in the field, if your ad i9s on deadline please push 1". I guess that's what sales people think a marketing partnership is all about. It should go way beyond deadlines and fire sale pricing on special issues but it never has and unfortunately won't now. I guess these same sales folks will just continue coming to work until one day there's no office and of course, no more fax machine.

Sheldon Senzon

4:14 AM  
Blogger David Prizer said...

Nice post and hits the mark from the sales side. Suggests that the market has not been buying what we're selling. I would also suggest it goes deeper…most newspaper-oriented companies still, are simply not selling what the market is buying. Training sales organizations (and by the way training sales management seems to get overlooked in most training discussions) is one piece of this. But asking them to do a smarter job of selling a product to an audience that doesn’t want it, or need it, is futile. The continued assumption that the printed product automatically adds value to everything digital is simply not true, (note that I said “everything”…it does add value in some cases.) There are a number is things that newspaper-oriented companies can do such as reducing the print frequency, investing in more personalized information products, focusing more on web-to-print channels, developing more digital channels that are not dependent upon relying upon the print product or the newspaper masthead…all focused on less dependence on the legacy (but not dead) print product. Strategies such as the consortium alliance with Yahoo are an effort to access technical expertise that newspapers simply did not have (the alliance should not be judged by the HotJobs component alone.) Changing the product mix and delivery does not improve the quality of the sales experience, it does change the complexion of the organization that is doing the selling, and that is sorely needed.

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. Hit the nail squarely on the head, at least at my paper.

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the poster who says newspapers should buy Yahoo and "strangle" google for content, leaving the company "berift" doesn't understand how Google makes money ...

Google's search engine is a byproduct, it's news page is just, well, there ...

The company is an online ad broker, first and formest. The search engine just helps the company place the ads, but the company makes its money by cutting deals with and getting a percentage of a huge chunk of all the advertising that pops up on blogs, home pages, news pages, everything ...

Google doesn't really want for content.

5:45 PM  
Blogger palmer said...

Ms. DeGeorge - great commentary on the ad side of the newspaper business. There certainly needs to be deep institutional change before any positive change will come about.

The Yahoo Consortium is a disaster. The member newspapers just do not realize it yet. It is two sinking ships lashed together leaving us to wonder which will drag the other to the bottom.

To the anonymous poster who stated, "the poster who says newspapers should buy Yahoo and "strangle" google for content".

You work in the newsroom I imagine? Stick to journalism and stay out of business. It's obviously not your strength.

6:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm Outside Sales at a small local newspaper. We have a small sales staff, and all the salespeople on our staff sell both online and print. We also sell internet "product" such as and In addition to this and special sections, we are selling magazines. We will launch Yahoo later this year. We have a strong focus on creating advertising and marketing solutions that work for our customers. We haven't been a "sit by the phone and wait for the order" type of sales staff for some years now. Our cost of sales is one of the lowest in our company. Our business model is profitable despite the negative news about Newspapers and the economy. I think we are a good example of how things can be when change and innovation is embraced.

2:08 AM  

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