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International: Do unified sales teams sell web -- or sell it short?

11-October-2006
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International: Do unified sales teams sell web -- or sell it short?

By now most magazine and newspaper publishers will tell you they have answered the digital revolution's call by transforming their sales reps into brand strategists from parochial media advocates of either print or web. But in reality, a team of brand strategists doesn't always fill the bill. 'Complex,' 'New York' and 'Wired' have all taken different approaches to selling their web and print products.

'Added value'

Beneath the veneer of integration and assimilation, many publishers continue to maintain distinct camps of print specialists and digital experts. Inertia can take some of the blame, but other reasons include the unpredictable and continuing development of digital media, ossified corporate structures and the belief that advertisers should value digital as more than "added value" to a print buy.

One magazine, the men's shopping guide Complex, even wants to revert from its all-in-one sales model to separate teams for print and digital -- probably by outsourcing the digital work and letting the in-house team focus on print.

Even media buyers have noticed the one-team approach hasn't quite jelled. "In the near future, it seems that we're moving in a direction of brand specialists vs. media specialists, which is exciting," said Robin Steinberg, senior VP-director of print investment, MediaVest. But it's not there yet. "Right now we're in the building phases and we're much further along than not. Three sides have to be on board: the agency, the media seller and the client. If those three are not on board and working in unison, it won't work."

'Six people sell everything'

Rich Antoniello, publisher, Complex, said growing advertiser demands for a solution, as opposed to a simple page or a banner to buy, are making it harder for true cross-platform sales reps to succeed. "Right now, we're using our current team -- six people sell anything," he said. "We're doing a decent job of selling banners on our site. We've had a few great case studies of very successful multimedia platform stuff."

Still, he said, "You cannot expect somebody to be able to do that, build tremendous programs in print and online for every single client. How savvy can somebody be if you're asked to do everything?"

Most often, newspapers or magazines that call their sales "unified" mean something more nuanced.

"We're selling a multiplatform media brand," said Lawrence C. Burstein, publisher, New York, sounding every bit like a properly forward-looking executive. "Our team is integrated."

"But," he added, "there are specialists within the team."

Everyone at New York can sell print or digital ads, and they often bring a comprehensive team to client meetings. But in many ways, even if no wall runs though it, the sales staff is divided.

Signaling the web's worth

"We have a print team selling New York magazine and we have a dedicated team selling NYmag.com," Mr. Burstein said. The online crew exists partly to ensure no one undersells the web's worth and partly to signal that the magazine is serious about its digital platform.

The web team also helps handle the online-only agencies, called "different animals" by Ron Stokes, New York's online marketing and advertising director. "There's a lot happening once business closes," Mr. Stokes said. "There's a continual dialogue about a campaign."

The web's evolution and surprises are another reason specialists remain needed, said Jeff Webber, senior VP-advertising, USA Today, and publisher, USAToday.com, where print account managers are also responsible for online sales but the online group generally organizes first and foremost around digital.

"Once things settle down a little bit, we have better metrics online, we have more standardization online, then I think we'll have more abilities to put those two staffs together," Mr. Webber said. "It seems to be moving that way."

Wired's model

Magazines at Conde Nast Publications work under a variety of models, some of which see the Conde Net interactive unit handle a title's digital sales. Wired, on the other hand, recently gained control of the ad inventory on Wired.com, after Conde Nast bought the independent site to reunite the print and web brands.

Wired decided against trying to build a sales force that could be all things to everyone. "The key thing to look at, more than integration, is setting things up seamlessly for advertisers," said Drew Schutte, VP-publishing director, Wired Media. "We are not having one sales force, but we are having an integrated-marketing team. You still have your pure print marketing efforts, but whenever there's a hint of interest in an integrated package we have a full range of templated ideas and a team available to work on custom ideas."

Source: Adage

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