The Future Publisher’s Sales Force

Automation has arrived in the media world. Depending on who you talk to, this is going to make publishers rethink the wine-and-dine, press-the-flesh approach to ad sales. It’s not that the machines are replacing the people, although there’s undoubtedly some of that, but sales teams will inevitably grow more specialized and sophisticated. Liberal arts will meet computer science, or at least Statistics 201. To that end, Digiday asked several publishers the following question: “What will the modern, premium publisher’s sales force look like five years from now, and how will it be different from today?”

Here’s what they had to say:

Julie Hansen, president, Business Insider:
Doug Weaver of Upstream Group once said that the digital media sales force of the future would be more like McKinsey consultants than traditional media sellers, and that stuck with me. I think Doug is right that our sales teams will need to become truly consultative to succeed. They will embrace technology not for its own sake (shiny new objects) but for the real ROI benefit it offers clients when we use it right. They will embrace programmatic buying, understanding its place in the ecosystem. They will become more sophisticated in addressing clients’ goals, KPIs and pain points.

How does this description differ from today’s sales force? Some sellers already fit this description. We look for this profile as we build out the Business Insider team. But plenty of media sales reps still sell mostly on jeans parties and happy hours, and they will see their effectiveness diminish over time.

Larry Burstein, publisher, New York Magazine:
In five years, the modern premium publisher’s sales force will look pretty much like New York’s does today. It is a sales force which follows and understands the rapid changes in content consumption and provides solutions for advertisers that encompass them. It’s a fully integrated team focused on a brand, not a platform. It’s where platforms are not competing profit centers and, instead, are different products from the same family with unique attributes and audiences.

The modern sales force focuses on the advertiser, using all company assets, regardless of platform or product, to achieve an advertiser’s goals. The team is supported by sales planners, not administrative assistants, and a sales support department which is a think tank for advertiser solutions. (This used to be called the merchandising department.) This modern sales force has witnessed the shifts of long-held content traditions as well as the fast growth of new rituals. It does not default to the company legacy but, instead, redefines the legacy to address the nearly limitless possibilities of the new marketplace on behalf of its partners.

Jon Steinberg, president, BuzzFeed:
At BuzzFeed, we sell only branded content in the form of social ads. There are no banners on BuzzFeed.com, and thus, our sales force needs to be adept and on their feet in terms of knowing brands and ideating on the spot in a first meeting. Our sellers give brands a vision of how their ideas, positions, aspirations and content could live and spread across the social Web. Consultative selling implies regurgitation, so I would say that our sales force is well researched and has a point of view.

I don’t think any direct sales forces will be selling banners in three years, if not sooner. I think social content-driven advertising will eat banners, and I think the publisher sales forces of the future will be creative educators with deep understandings of how content can be created and shared on their platforms and how their platforms can be used to have an emotional impact.

Deanna Brown, CEO, Federated Media:
The way that our industry is changing, the ideal future sales leader will have to be equally well rounded and educated on premium and programmatic selling because advertisers are continually looking to work with fewer trusted partners. These sales stars will need to be experienced brand-content experts and innovative conversational marketing practitioners with a deep knowledge of proven engagement tactics for both the native and social environments. And the final aspect will revolve around their toolkit as agile marketers themselves, namely their access to a variety of demonstrative case studies, proprietary tech platforms and smart partnerships that will help them stand out in a distributed marketplace.

Rick Webb, revenue consultant, Tumblr:
They will either have their own partner agency or a team of in-house creatives. These people will help advertisers concept campaigns unique to their platform and to deliver a consistent experience to all types of advertisers, regardless of which agency (social, digital, media, traditional) is contacting the pub. They may also have an API available, allowing brands to develop unique campaigns, and a developer evangelist to help the agencies exploit it. There will still be cold-calling, hard-charging sales people, but there will also be a good corps of planner or strategist types that pursue the soft sell by helping the brands solve tough strategic problems. They will probably have their own writers available to deliver premium content to the sponsors. Many sports tickets will still be purchased.

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