Friday, February 1, 2013

Journalists selling ads: think of it as a fair exchange

When I was going through the transition from editor of a business publication to the role of publisher, I dreaded sales calls with clients.

It meant I had to ask clients for money, which was a new and uncomfortable experience. The hilarious irony of this is that, as a reporter and editor, it was my job to ask people much tougher, more-intrusive questions, and I did it with no problem -- grieving parents about the death of their child, a political candidate about his sexual escapades, a business executive about her salary.

How tough could it be for a former reporter to ask an advertiser for money? (I borrow this example from Robert Niles's book.) Not that tough, as it turns out.

It's a fair exchange

You have to change your mindset. You are not asking anyone for anything when you are with a potential client. What you are proposing is a fair exchange. You are offering something of value to a client in exchange for their investment in marketing and image.

Here is what you could say:

"Mr. or Ms. Potential Client, we have this loyal community of readers and followers who value the high-quality of the news and information we provide. They identify with our editorial values of accuracy and fairness. They are loyal to us, as shown by the frequency with which they return to our website each month and by the high renewal rate on our paid print subscriptions. They are not just passive observers. They participate in our online polls. They pay to attend the events that we sponsor. Our existing sponsors and advertisers enjoy being identified with a brand of integrity. They think it enhances the integrity of their own brands. Here are some testimonials. Call them if you like. And here is the value we place on this service. In exchange for your investment, we offer this great value."

Of course, you have to have the research and data to have this conversation. Maybe you have only one piece of data. Use it, be proud of it, and own it. But in my experience, the decision-makers are really assessing you, not your numbers. Are you a trustworthy person, and are your employees credible and trustworthy? Everything about you, from your appearance, to your business card, to your manners, to the materials you leave behind, to the way your telephone is answered -- all those things need to reinforce trust and credibility.


So, there is a price that you put on the value. Obviously you need to know what the going rates are in your market when you set your rate card. My advice is to price your product or service higher than your competitors. Some clients feel better about paying more than your competitors charge because it reinforces their perception of the value of your service.

Some clients are very price sensitive and may not be the right clients for you. Walk away from them. If you instantly cut your rates below your competitors to get business, you are headed down a slippery slope. There will always be a competitor willing to take losses to gain market share. Then you are in a race to the bottom.

In some cases you might offer a client a short-term trial rate. But don't offer to sell for less than your competitors just to get the business. Stick with your rate card. You are offering value in a fair exchange. You are not asking anyone for anything.

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Robert Niles: How to Make Money Publishing Community News Online
How much to charge advertisers? As much as possible
More paywalls won't save journalists' jobs
Google takes magic out of advertising sales process
How I ran my newspaper monopoly
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How to tailor news for 4 different platforms? 'Responsive design'

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