Many local media companies now rely on a single sales force to sell both traditional and print advertising–but that might be a shortsighted strategy, says a new report from Borrell Associates. The company found major differences between companies that employ digital-only sales forces and those that instead employ a “digital first” strategy.
Borrell finds that the number of digital-only sales reps — employed by legacy media companies (newspapers, radio and TV) has dropped 23 percent since 2009 as companies focus instead on the idea that “a single sales (and content) force can do it all, and that everything should be focused first on online publishing and sales.” On average, 46 of local media companies now have at least one online-only account executive, compared to 60 percent in August 2009.
Yet the sites that do employ online-only account execs (AEs) “outperform those without by a factor of 2.5″ in terms of gross online revenue per sales rep, according to the report. The difference is even more marked in TV–stations that employ online-only AEs pull in three times the gross revenue as stations that don’t. It’s “clear that having a staff dedicated to selling online advertising — and combining it with the efforts of the legacy media sales force — drives more digital revenues,” but it’s not clear how many online-only sales reps are needed to achieve the best results.
Borrell also looks at how local media companies are organizing their sales reps, and finds the most successful model tends to be “separate digital units with dotted lines” — companies that employ both traditional and digital-only sellers, but have a separate digital division responsible for hitting digital revenue goals and reporting to a separate manager. “Many of these operations saw revenue growth in the 40 to 60 percent range in 2011, while average market growth for local online advertising was 15 percent,” Borrell reports. “The reason is no mystery: With a unit that has sole responsibility for digital sales, goals and lines of responsibility don’t get tangled up in debates about legacy media sales problems.”
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