The most overused phrase of the last year is “in this economy.” As publishers, it is time to embrace the challenges ahead and learn to move forward. This industry’s best bet is to take a good, hard look at its sales practices and concentrate on making changes that will attract advertisers.

Clients choose to do business with your publication based on your ability to meet their needs, projected ROI, and your staff’s sales approach. Simple, well-written proposals that show legitimate ROI go a long way toward landing a client’s advertising dollars. Right now, marketers are looking for a reason NOT to do business with you. Here are some of our favorite tips for helping convince marketers that your publication is the best advertising option for them.

1) Keep it simple

This is the most important tip to remember in any type of proposal. Keep all communications concise. Adding unnecessary fluff is a waste of time, both yours and the client’s. Additionally, adding more information than is necessary can come across as a dog and pony show. In other words, no glitter needed—just include the facts to be taken seriously.

2) Don’t keep them waiting

Current statistics state that the average attention span for reviewing information is about 15 seconds. If that does not scare you, it should. You have a limited amount of time to capture a marketer’s attention. Put your most important points in the beginning and reiterate them in the end. The middle tends to be filler information and is almost always skimmed and not read. Recently, we sent a proposal to a healthcare company. The CMO called us 10 minutes later to schedule a meeting. He said that the info on our first page was exactly what he was looking for and that he wanted to schedule a meeting ASAP. Lesson: Hook them early with your best, most valuable information, and use the middle to explain your process.

3) What makes you so special?

Marketers are always looking for the best, most effective new tools to reach audiences. It is vital to convey to your potential clients why your publication is different and better than the competition. What do you offer that makes you stand out from other publications? Does your advertising program include social media, digital options, targeted newsletters, etc.? Do you reach a niche audience currently uncovered by other publication? Can you provide real data to back up your claims? If so, outline the information that differentiates what you offer from the rest of the advertising options out there.

4) Offer “free” value added services

The best way to woo marketers is to offer them services above and beyond the norm for no extra charge. Determine what options your publication can offer clients that add value without costing an arm and a leg. For example, we frequently offer marketers free ad design services from our in-house creative team for online campaigns. Clients are often intimidated by creative and its associated costs, so offering free creative makes your proposal more attractive. It costs you little, and it makes the client more inclined to do business with you. End result is win/win. 
5) Offer “out of the box” advertising options

It’s important to offer creative advertising options rather than just sticking with traditional mediums. Most marketers have seen belly bands, polybags, and tipped-in cover ads, but most do not know that those kinds of advertising options are open to them. Mention the option of issue sponsorship, rich media, inserts, and gatefold ads, and watch your marketers’ eyes light up. Last year, we offered a pharma client a gatefold ad which drove so much buzz for them, they have since used it again in three other publications. Novelty is good. Be the first to offer these options at a reasonable rate to your client, and watch the signed proposals come rolling in.

6) Make sure to include all digital opportunities and corresponding analytics

This is 2009. Digital is no longer new media. Every surviving marketer wants to be online, so delivering a proposal without digital offerings or analytics is the kiss of death. In April, we had a software company tell us that they were only interested in print advertising. When we sent over their proposal, we threw in the online stats just “as information.” They were so impressed with the potential ROI that they found more advertising dollars to spend so that they could include online ads, too. If we had not included the information, they never would have known about those options.

7) You’re #1

Marketers have literally thousands of options when it comes to advertising. It is in your best interest to appeal to the ego in all decision makers and highlight the benefits of an alignment with your publication. Make the prospect feel like they will be the “#1” client in your publication. Mention how flattered you are to be considered by the prospective client for his/her advertising needs. Use the words “we,” “us” and “together” throughout the proposal, suggesting the existence of a partnership rather than a client/vendor relationship.

Language is one of the most frequently misused tools in proposal writing. No one likes being sold. However, making allusions toward a future relationship is both subtle and effective.

8) Use client testimonials to your benefit

Lots of publishers make mistakes when it comes to using past client data to sell advertising to potential clients. While all endorsements of your services are great, one size fits all is not the right approach. Offering random success stories of current clients is not persuasive enough to convince most marketers.

Last December, we responded to an association RFP. Part of the reason we won that business is because we made reference to an endorsement given to us by another large association. The client testimonials you chose should be applicable to your potential client’s situation.

Customization shows that you have taken the time to research your prospect’s specific needs. This kind of detail can be the difference in mindless self-promotion and winning a new client.

9) Suggest a follow-up meeting

After sending over your proposal, call the client to offer a chance for a face-to-face meeting to explain your proposal in greater detail. Words on paper do not always convey the emotional appeal of advertising. Speaking to a client in person helps you highlight the strengths of your proposal and point out the areas that the potential client may have missed. Additionally, offering to visit a prospective client on site suggests that you are willing to go above and beyond what other publications will do to win that client’s business.

10) Send a thank you note

It might sound simple, but one of the most effective ways to stay in a prospective client’s head is to follow up with a hand written note. This small gesture creates a more personal connection and often resonates better than the traditional e-mail follow-up.

The first year we were in business, we sent a thank you note to a client. We did not win the business at that time, but two years later when it came time to review their advertising needs, that client called us for another proposal, saying that she appreciated our personal touch. We won that business and have been working with that company for the last three years all because of a thank you note.

There is no doubt that times are tough. The industry has taken quite a hit, but advertising is more important now than ever before. Marketers are still out there looking for the right vehicle to help drive consumers to buy their products and use their services. Offering the best proposal is essential in the development of a long-term advertising sales relationship. Keep it simple, show evidence of ROI, customize when possible, and offer creative solutions that others cannot. These practices will go a long way toward winning marketers over.

JT Hroncich and Jason Morrison are the leadership team of Capitol Media Solutions, a full-service advertising agency specializing in media planning, buying, creative and ad sales. For more information on Capitol Media Solutions, please visit or call 1-800-517-0610.

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