Publishers don’t really set the sale price for their product; they suggest one that invariably needs to be lowered after a buy begins. Publishers have no say on a minimum time or budget commitment either, to access their audience, as those factors are also dictated by the buyer on risk-free terms that guarantee the publisher nothing.
The campaign then starts, and value gets defined solely by how a consumer a publisher can’t control, reacts to an ad message a publisher did not create. Based on this performance, three things can happen. One, the campaign can continue to rummage through the publisher’s impressions with no guarantee of buying any. Two, the campaign “under-performs” and the publisher is given the opportunity to lower rates further in order to save it -- or three, the campaign stops running. In any case, the seller has no idea how much was sold until the buyer generates a report reflecting how much was bought.
That’s not selling, that’s accounting.
Premium publishers are in the media sales business. Vacuuming up revenue programmatically comes with a downside, but I am not blind to the short-term benefits. Success of any magnitude in the publishing business however, comes when a premium price is consistently obtained for the inherent value earned by an advertiser by just appearing, while a consumer engages with professionally produced content.
Securing this premium price is hard, and it takes salespeople, not accountants, to get it done. Finding and keeping individuals who can do this effectively is a challenge. But accomplishing this human-resource task does not guarantee that revenue expectations are wildly exceeded in the media sales business. Achieving that takes a sales team.
Of the four media sales teams I was a part of, the one that stands out is the one that achieved the greatest success, at Snowball.com (renamed IGN Entertainment), which was eventually bought by Fox in 2005 for $650 million dollars.
How did we end up succeeding when so many companies with dot-com last names went out of business? The work of our editors, engineers and the skill of our CEO played a big part, of course, but as a company that made money selling ads, our success can be tied to a group of individual salespeople who came together as a team.
For me, this team element first started early on, and ironically, in what we called “the pit.” That’s where I first managed the San Francisco sales team. It was just four of us at the time, sitting in an open area with our backs to one another, calling clients all day. We grew together by listening to every mistake each of us made, laughing at every gaffe, and celebrating every sales success regardless of who sold it.
This San Francisco sales team grew quickly to 14, and we built on the camaraderie first established in “the pit.” To encourage teamwork, salespeople were put into teams of two covering one account list. There was also a commission plan in place that paid out these mini teams for hitting quotas, but paid out everyone when the entire SF team quota was hit.
Our vice president of sales, Tim Armstrong, (yes that Tim) worked out of the New York office, but would come to San Francisco frequently where we were headquartered. One day Tim pulled me aside, and told me how much smoother things ran “here in SF” compared to our other offices. It was the first indication that what we were doing was different -- and working.
When Tim left the company, I had the privilege of managing the team nationally and tried to extend this team spirit to other offices. It got harder as the group got bigger, but we got there. One vivid memory I have is of a party held during our national sales meeting. A sales director in SF with a huge personality hosted the party at her house for the entire sales team. I watched as our NY sales director, with an even bigger personality, drank wine with the host as if they were old friends, while everyone else was scattered about having a great time.
Sure, there were fights over reserving home-page roadblocks and battles over splits, but overall this was a collection of people who liked and respected one another, and had each other’s backs. This was a team.
Premium-priced ad revenue will always come from salespeople solving marketing communication problems for their clients, and using ad inventory to charge for their solution. Sales expectations are only wildly exceeded when these individuals come together as a team. I don’t claim to know exactly how to make that happen -- but I do know that when it does, it’s amazing.