Making Sense of Marketing Services
It bears repeating: The traditional sales rules don't apply.
For all the activity around “marketing services,” publishers in general still have a lot to learn when setting up a sales operation around this kind of service strategy. The lessons typically center on three core buckets: Culture, market approach and data. What goes in those buckets depends a lot on the size and type of a publisher and the size and type of the audience and market it serves.
“The big issue is b-to-b companies are traditionally very transaction focused—we sell something and then go away. The goal of marketing services is to make the client successful first. If you make the client successful, you will be successful,” says Michael Hurley, vice president, custom media solutions at Stagnito Media.
Hurley was hired by Stagnito about five months ago to specifically build out its marketing services operation, and for Hurley that means moving from off-the-shelf one-off campaigns to longer-term recurring projects.
“It’s a matter now of taking a look at what [Stagnito has] done to date, which is like what a lot of b-to-b publishers have done—one-offs for the most part. They’re not integrated, like doing an event and using social to drive interest.”
To get beyond the one-off projects, Hurley is adopting a model that relies on freelance help and outside contractors. Nevertheless, at the core of his operation will be subject matter experts—freelance editors, basically. The model, he believes, works well for a mid to smaller-market publisher that may not be in the position to staff up a dedicated in-house operation—a distinction the clients may not care too much about. “The clients understand. They don’t expect you to own everything, but they do expect you to be the manager and drive it and produce the results. That’s what we hope to do here.”
Making the Sale
At The Fader, a media brand focused on emerging music and lifestyle, the concept of “marketing services” is considered outdated in name, but inherent in the way the brand approaches a project.
“The one fundamental thing is [marketing services has] traditionally been at the tail end of the conversation instead of the beginning,” says Andy Cohn, The Fader’s president and publisher. “I would never even want to talk about ‘marketing services,’ it sounds old-school and traditional. What happened is, at least for us, is it’s easy for us to flip it around and do the strategic marketing first—take the brand, take our audience and specialty, find that middle ground and create a campaign that touches a lot of points and platforms and then build a program that way. And then ad pages and banners are built in at the end.”
In other words, Cohn and his team don’t sell ads and marketing services like they’re two separate concepts. Marketing services is essentially all The Fader sells and that’s where the conversation starts.
“We have one sales staff, a consolidated marketing team and one brand. We’re able to spend a lot of time developing integrated programs where that’s really the key to the entire relationship—that’s the beginning of the conversation and the traditional ad units get plugged in at the tail end. And we’re able to build a much more meaningful partnership and let the other things color all that in.”
On the Bigger Company Scale
Both Cohn and Hurley note that smaller companies have an advantage in market focus, enabling a sales team to be an expert in one area, but larger companies that serve multiple verticals with scores of brands have a much different organizational challenge.
“We’ve structured marketing services so it serves across the organization. Penton has 17 vertical markets. We go inside each one of these verticals and set up how marketing services is relevant to that particular industry,” says George Assimakopoulos, president of Penton Marketing Services.
“We take the time to look at what the data is telling us. This is an important point: Penton touches its audience so many different ways—events, publications, webinars, newsletters. The audience is giving us the answers on the things they want to learn more about. We can go back to a business and say what the audience is interested in, let us develop the content for you that puts you in front of that audience with the information they want to learn more about. You can’t do that from a blanket approach, you have to do that in the way a market is structured, so we work closely with each market leader and then we apply our practice accordingly.”
While Penton’s marketing services operation has changed its approach over the years, learning as it goes along, a customer insights team has proven to be central to the group’s latest iteration.
“We’ve learned from a lot of mistakes,” says Assimakopoulos, “but we’re sharper now. I see this in a lot of other organizations—we had to learn that we cannot just go in there and dump ideas and solutions on the client. We had to form a structure and team that can help a client.”
While that may seem obvious, it’s a classic first mistake: Publishers create a menu of “solutions” and then hand it to the marketer before any consultative conversation happens.
In the meantime, Assimakopoulos says an Insights Team was formed which uses audience measurement tools to “listen” in on what subscribers, event attendees, website visitors and so on are engaging with. From that data, the marketing services team can help a client fit its marketing message in with the audience segment that will be the most receptive to hearing it.
“We can see where the market is shifting,” he says. “A lot of media companies are not doing this. We start with the insights of that space so we can go to our clients and be informed and educated.”
The Difference Between Media Sales and Marketing Strategy
By Chris Wilson
Running a marketing services operation is a much different practice than running a publication, especially with regard to the selling cycle. Publication sales representatives tend to be accustomed to consulting with marketers and presenting brand-centric advertising solutions. Presenting marketing services solutions to customers, however, requires a truly customer-centric approach accompanied by a high level of marketing knowledge.
The ability to present unbiased, customer-centric strategies and solutions is what differentiates a marketing strategist from a media sales representative. Marketing strategists will earn the trust of clients by outlining entire content marketing campaigns that often include ideas and solutions that they themselves might not be able to service. While this approach may be perceived as counterintuitive from a business standpoint, it succeeds in establishing trusting relationship in this ripe market, ultimately enabling the opportunity for renewable, sustainable business.
What to Recognize: Your organization’s top-producing media sales representative might not be equipped to effectively sell marketing services to customers.