Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” He could have been describing today’s publishing landscape. We work with many publishers, and are continually reminded of the importance of sales planning. There is no final answer: The situation is fluid and plans must be updated, revised and, sometimes, jettisoned.
There are more ways for a publisher to generate revenues today than ever before. There is much more for salespeople to learn and remember, and far more ways to go wrong in areas only tangentially related to traditional publishing. It is unclear which will be the winning strategies as magazine brands extend beyond the printed page to websites, mobile media, events and social media communities. What is clear is that salespeople are responsible for learning, forecasting and planning in new areas.
Because my company’s responsibility is to turn publishers’ plans into revenues, we find out very quickly what works. Every one of our salespeople creates an annual plan for every sales territory; we have found that rapid, monthly course corrections and revisions to plans are essential.
As we talk with publishers, we frequently see a pattern of issues like these:
• Slow, methodical annual planning with quarterly reviews, in our view, is ineffective. Reviews must be accelerated.
• Many publishing organizations lack any real experience in identifying appropriate partners and then in executing a relationship with those new partners.
• Hiring one-dimensional salespeople who do not have the proper skills to adapt to a multimedia environment puts magazines at a disadvantage.
• Failing to recognize that just because people may be comfortable with digital technology does not necessarily translate to the ability to sell that digital technology. They may not have the skill set to sell anything.
• The real—and troubling—rise of technologically-driven processes like Real-Time Auction advertising models commoditizes and diminishes the role of publishers and traditional agencies by replacing considered opinion with algorithms.
• Failing to properly train salespeople in all new product offerings means they often do not try to sell the products, which results in lost business.
• Failing to provide adequate sales and demonstration tools (including mobile tools for mobile products) and proper collateral can reduce the impact of investments in new products.
Many problems can be traced to the cost-cutting measures in the face of the recession and uncertainty due to the very turbulent times in which consumer and b-to-b magazines have found themselves. As Warren Buffett so aptly says, "Capital outlays at a business can be skipped, of course, in any given month, just as a human can skip a day or even a week of eating. But if the skipping becomes routine and is not made up, the body weakens and eventually dies."
In my opinion, leadership must come from the top. Just as salespeople need to be trained in the nuances of new media platforms, or at least platforms new to them, so does senior management. Too often, top managers running publishing companies don’t have enough experience in understanding the nuances and the differences that exist between different media and how they can be packaged together. I think this is a big issue today.
Placing publishing executives into the media department of an agency for a week would be the best training. That experience would bring incredible insights to top managers, not only regarding the differences in various media, but also in understanding the way ad agency media buyers really purchase media. Because this solution is impractical for most executives, the next best thing is for them to go on fact-finding tours at agencies with the objective of learning. Selling will come later, based on understanding the buyers’ needs.
There is no end in sight for new media platforms, and disruptive innovation is the rule. The only sure thing is that failure to stay current will have negative results. From here on out, we all must keep on learning.
James G. Elliott is president of James G. Elliott Co., Inc., an independent advertising sales firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.