Local Media Embraces Digital-Only Sales Reps To Drive Online Revs

Greg-HarmonParticularly at the local level, media companies are warming to the idea of digital-only salespeople and managers with the chops to drive online ad revenue.  

Local media companies with digital-only reps average twice as much online revenue as those without such staff. On average, regular sales reps generate $97,988 in digital sales per year, while digital-only reps generate $144,598 -- an increase of 47% -- according to new findings from Borrell Associates.

As such, 62% of sales managers at newspaper, radio, TV and “Yellow Page” companies now report employing at least one digital-only rep, Borrell found.

“It’s not a lot,” acknowledged Greg Harmon, senior research analyst at Borrell, and principal author of the report, which included feedback from 220 media executives. “Two-thirds of those respondents said they have no more than two [digital-only reps].”

One reason for the low numbers: Traditional media companies can’t -- or aren’t willing to -- compete with online “pure plays” for digital-savvy salespeople.  

In fact, pure-play managers in Borrell’s survey reported an average starting salary of $54,100 for reps, which is about 50% higher than what TV, newspaper and radio managers were offering.

“There appears to be formidable competition from online pure-play companies, like Yodle, Pandora, Yelp, ReachLocal and others,” according to Harmon.

That said, the majority of traditional media companies now have at least one digital sales specialist on staff -- “if only to act as an interpreter for traditional reps in a four-legged sales call,” Harmon explained.

Plus, the use of dedicated digital account executives varies by media, with newspapers well ahead in employing them, Borrell found. Yet, the challenges of selling “digital” -- which Borrell defines as any online, mobile or interactive ad format -- can be daunting for any media company.

“Online media can be byzantine,” said Harmon. “Just when reps think they have a good working knowledge of Facebook and Twitter, along comes Pinterest, Tumblr and Instagram.”
However, according to Harmon, motivation remains the biggest obstacle for any media company trying to increase digital ad sales. “The question is, do sales reps really want to sell digital products?” he asked. “The key could be in how those reps are compensated.”

Getting to the root of the motivation gap, Borrell noted that digital products tend to be lower-priced, while many organizations still see interactive media as too speculative to gamble on high-powered account reps.

Among survey respondents, one-third were from newspaper companies; 56% were from broadcasting; 12% were from Yellow Pages; and 4% were from Internet “pureplays.”

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