Step One: Sales communication. The reality of selling media is that you have very little time at the podium. So don't waste time trying to communicate the value of branding that will occur by advertising on your site; buyers don't want to hear it, and that's their job, not yours. Instead, educate buyers on the value your brand delivers to your audience. Focus your sales communication on innovative ways that show your brand's relevance with the audience you reach -- buyers will put two and two together.
Step Two: Better branding mousetrap. It's hard to see the value of branding that takes place on a site when clients see four or more ad units on each page view. Strip down your page views to two ads above the fold (and keep one unit below the fold for zero cost impressions to help lower effective CPMs). Bite the bullet on your new overall impression count, and then go out on calls to show clients visually cleaner, uncluttered access to the audience connected to your brand. Keep shoving four and five ads onto each page view, and all your clients will look at are click-through reports.
Step Three: A much-better branding mousetrap. This is a trick I teach my clients, so pay attention. You're all selling Roadblocks, right? The mistake you are likely making is that you sell them for the amount of time requested by the buyer (one day, for example). Instead, formally offer them in a way that meets their need for 100% share-of-voice of a premium placement -- and your need to make more money. Take your premium placement (homepage for example) and package/estimate the total impressions for both ad units above the fold for a one-week period. Then multiply this estimate by a premium CPM. Now you have a cost for a one-week buyout I like to call a "Weekly Brandblock." Do not offer this package for less than one week. You only have 52 weeks in a year to sell, so you have more leverage in closing these packages, which by default, cost more to buy.
Don't worry about the unsold weeks -- it's not a big deal -- and don't sweat the over-delivery of impressions for a one-week buy that experiences higher traffic. Just make sure you don't under-deliver, so be conservative in your estimates. Over time, you will experience a high degree of sell-through of these packages; when that happens, you can start raising your prices.
Step Four: Now skin it. Take steps three and add an even more expensive option for clients to choose that include this "skin treatment." These treatments are all over consumer sites and are starting to extend to business sites -- so open your arms to running them on your site. If clients want this extra bold messaging option, then inflate the CPM you charge for your "Weekly Brandblock" and that will increase the cost for this weekly package. For the record, the very first skin sold was at IGN. Andrew Saunders created it for the DVD release of "Austin Powers in Goldmember." After it ran, we would shop the idea to other clients and call it the "Goldmember Treatment." So we have Andrew and the agency he worked with (I think it was Ignited Minds) to thank for creating a package that screams of branding value.
Step Five: Shop winner-take-all sponsorship packages. Who wants to be the official watch of Esquire.com? It includes a dynamic watch face telling readers the time on every page view (Rolex did this with Newsweek). How about the sponsor of a dynamic countdown to dinnertime unit for MyRecipes.com? Who wants to be the official car of Southernliving.com? This is the time to think big and command annual commitments for these kinds of unique and creative site integrations. Think big and make sure you shop these ideas to multiple clients at the same time. Many will respect your creativity and pass on them, but you only need two to express interest at the same time -- and now we're talking.
These aren't the only steps to take to maximize revenue at a branded content site -- but they will work if executed properly and with conviction.