Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned media executive who's lived through the heyday of print or you’re a relative newcomer whose focus has been primarily on digital, in one form or another, one fact should be clear: Google and Facebook, arguably, have captured an enormous portion of digital ad revenue, leaving a relatively small percentage of the remaining available ad spend for a vast ecosystem of media organizations to fight over. Fierce battles have played out at both the national and local levels where ad sales executives have found it increasingly challenging to meet their quotas.
To make matters worse, the 2020 pandemic brought with it a significant disruption to the ad sales industry. And while “less down is the new up” was a concept we heard many companies using to describe even the pre-2020 pandemic market, “surviving the times and waiting to see the long-term, industry-wide impacts” has been the more recent point of view. But, from our perspective, media organizations need to be thinking beyond survival. To that end, we have put together three ways your ad sales organization can work back toward a model of “up is the new up” looking ahead and past this challenging period.
Expand your product mix:
Beyond purely shifting print publications to online, ad sales organizations will need to push even further to compete and continue to invest in expanding their product mix outside of pure print and digital ad sales, going deeper with offerings such as subscriptions, events, and agency services. Digital subscription-based businesses showed great resilience during 2020 and publishers benefited from being able to create lower cost, high quality digital magazines and other types of subscriptions to foster more consistent engagement. Similar to subscriptions, virtual events will continue to be the buzz in the new year and an easy path to revenue diversification, with an opportunity to leverage countless net-new digital assets from events that can be repackaged and redistributed. In terms of creative services, publishers can be innovative, expanding into agency-like services to stem the loss of revenue across other media types. Agency and global consulting behemoths will likely continue to rapidly converge through M&A, leading to more innovation opportunities and healthy competition in the space. Publishers can take advantage by becoming a one-stop shop for their advertisers.
Innovate (and faster):
Facing such exponential rates of change, there is much opportunity for ad sales organizations to innovate, ensuring they are positioned to not only pivot in response to market changes, but to pivot at the right time, so as not to get left in the dust. But pulling back the curtain, we see inhibitors to such innovation. As tenured consultants in the CRM space, some of us with more than 10,000 hours (or even 20,000 hours) under our belts, we remain somewhat dismayed by the general lack of rigor around business transformation spanning the people, process, and platform aspects of advertising sales. Of course there is progress, but it’s often slow or in response to organizational fire drills. Typically roles are not well defined, processes are left broken for extended periods of time, platforms like CRM are not leveraged effectively, and dirty data proliferates in the ongoing absence of data governance. Similar to buying in a bull market, ad sales organizations should invest further in their infrastructure now, to be best prepared for the swell of work on the horizon. Down periods can be the perfect time to double down on process refinement, role changes, technology innovations, and training to make sure your team and your technologies are prepared for what’s next.
Fine-tune programmatic offerings:
During times of uncertainty, advertisers may place more faith in programmatic buys, not only being in the driver’s seat when it comes to their advertising decisions, but in knowing their dollars are going toward actual engagement with pricing models like CPC and CPA. Digital publishers who have not yet dived deep with programmatic should assess how to best open up inventory to their customers to create a more automated and reliable ad buying process. Publishers can also reap benefits of net new ad revenue through smaller, lesser-known advertisers in the marketplace who may not have been customers otherwise, reducing costs of customer acquisition and operational overhead typical to managing smaller advertisers. For publishers who have capitalized on programmatic in years past, now is the time to take their programmatic data–insights into things like buying behaviors and performance metrics–to the next level with meaningful investments in analytics. This will enable these publishers to have a competitive edge as the industry starts to pick back up, being able to offer the right products to the right customers at the right time, while increasing availability of inventory and ensuring investments are in digital products that will yield the highest click rates.
While traditional print and digital ad sales is here to stay, competing in a post-pandemic world will require thoughtful diversification of products, heavy investment in the ad sales technology stack, including analytics, and a concerted effort around programmatic to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and client trust.