Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"There are a hundred roads to Rome; the important thing is to get there, not to use the same road." Herb Kelleher

"Without some element of leadership, the many at the bottom will be paralyzed with choices." Kevin Kelly

"The genius of a good leader is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully." Walter Lippmann

Today's image: Alone After the Rain by imagonovus. Great capture. Thank you for sharing.

Adventures in Ad Sales
Dirty little secrets from the front

One of the benefits of owning a small retail business is getting an up-close and personal view of local media sales practices. During the almost five years we have been open for business it's fair to say we have just about heard it all from media sellers and their managers. Informed by our playing with live ammo situation, my sense (which continues to be confirmed) is media sales organizations are their own worst enemies.

Today a story, a few suggestions and, count them, four links you should check out.

Recently a TV seller for one of the big four affiliates stopped in to pitch a package. She left behind ten pages supporting her offer. The summary format, one we see frequently, was structured as follows:

Total Spots
Total Value
Total Cost
Total Savings

She said she needed a decision ASAP because the schedule had to begin the following week.

When asked why we were being pitched the package she explained that time was short and they were pitching local TV advertisers who were already running on WWWW (her competitor). This was important because our creative was already executed, all we needed to do was ask our WWWW rep to provide her station with a copy. We were good to go, no production required.

The "total savings" featured on option summary pages ranged from 35 to 40 percent depending on the option selected.

She called to follow up. We said thank you but we were taking a pass. We again stated the objection made at the time of her in-person pitch - "our 2009 ad budget is already fully committed." We also reminded her that we were previously, for years, an annual advertiser with her station.

She said "We really need to sit down and talk about things. We are doing well in the ratings, they're much better. We have new management, the staff has changed and we are much more professional. Our customer service has improved. We need to sit down and talk about next quarter, I'm sure I can help you."

She was again told, thanks but no, thank you. We are fully committed for the remainder of 2009.

At this point in the call the line goes dead. Silence. [Cue the crickets]

We do give her credit for one thing. At that moment, she did not invoke what we have come to call the media seller's rejoinder of choice (i.e., "You're making a big mistake"). In sum, our finding is she wasted her time and ours. She was simply not adequately trained or prepared. My thought is these are symptoms of a leadership problem. Her managers are culpable.

Here are ten suggestions for sales leadership and savvy sellers. Please understand...

1. Nothing about your station is important to the retailer.

2. The important thing to the retailer is their enterprise. The one thing that every retailer cares about most, wants to talk about in depth with anyone willing to listen, is their business. Hint - no one they know seems to care about it as much as they do and/or are tired of hearing about it.

3. Retailers sell second for a living, they buy first for a living. When you attempt to sell a retailer you find yourself across the table from a highly skilled professional buyer. When calling on a business not on your air please remember that no matter what you are selling it will first be thought of as an additional, unexpected and unnecessary expense.

4. Retailers are always suspicious of whole dollar pricing. Everything they buy is priced in dollars and cents. Why do media sellers consistently round up? (Thank you to Kevin B. Sweeney for that important lesson)

5. Mind the old saw: Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice.

6. Successful retailers plan their work and work their plan. The average planning horizon is expressed in months and quarters.

7. New business cold calling with fire sale packages is unlucky. See numbers 5 and 6.

8. Stop telling retailers how good your business is. They are able to see and hear how good it actually is at will. When they watch prime filled with promos or hear a morning drive without spots you have seriously jeopardized your credibility. Be modest. Tell them you're doing your best in this environment and share some client success stories.

9. Testimonials from your clients are pure gold. There is no better reference for your station than a happy local retailer. Recency is key here.

10. Under-promise, over-deliver. Consistently.

The major problems with this specific sales call may be found in its motivation and timing. Here we are witness to an example of management using competitive intel to target prospects with a package that may or may not be relevant/attractive and doing so under the last minute pressures of a ticking perishable inventory clock. My guess would be this is yet another month of things just not going well for the guys at that station. Imagine the discussion. "There's no appetite for our discounted prime inventory, oh well, it must be the economy."

Never say never, exception number 94:
Never confuse activity with progress

Please allow me to offer final thoughts on this issue. The way out for this seller and her peers, for station managers and for their owners will require courage and commitment. The first step is to stop doing what no longer produces the expected result. In the main, broadcasters must stop getting up in the morning and heading to the station with the primary mission of killing the guys across the street. Broadcasters must abandon the patently wrong pov that internecine warfare is productive best practice. This pursuit is a senseless zero sum game and clearly less and less effective. Moreover, it's a potentially dangerous dead end. Using competitive intel restricted to your direct competitors is silo thinking that blinds, it limits potential by its very design. Fighting for larger shares of a smaller and smaller pie is plainly irrational. A sustainable business model this is not, it's a flawed strategy long past its best used by date. The truth be known, local markets are rich with ad spend. It's a big market out there. You can be a victim, a captive to an industry segment gone weak or you can refuse to play that role and get busy doing something different. Have the audacity to break from the industry dogma and rote behavior. To begin getting your unfair share you'll need to do the hard work that working smart demands and you'll need to persevere. Courage is the power to let go of what's familiar.

One more word on retailers. They don't want to be sold but they love to buy. All the best to you. Game on. Please, give it a go.

P.S. We think the world of the local media sellers we work with. We believe strongly in the game-changing power of advertising. Local broadcast, print and online continue to yield excellent returns on our investment, they are helping to grow our business year after year.

Best practice: Want to read about a great, no make that an amazing promotion? Take a minute and get a lesson from one of the finest minds in American retailing history. How to make money with your promotions. A tale from my salad days with RKO Radio in Chicago, here.

Bonus: The annual Mindset List has arrived from the good folk at Beloit College as we officially welcome the Class of 2013. Always an interesting read, it's here. Kudos to team Mindset!

Clues from a cool kid: When it comes to any discussion concerning brands and branding, the go to guy is Tom Asacker. He's simply one of the best and brightest. You'll find his latest thought piece, A Brand is Not a Separate Thing, available via PDF, here. Tom's blog, a clear eye, is a gem and may be found here. Bravos, Tom. Well said.

Riddle me this, Batman: Who Are The Trust Agents for Your Station? Tom Webster, the digital-dean-in-residence at Edison Media Research provides some thoughts and along the way suggests a killer must-read, here. Thanks, Tom.

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