local media insider
Case Study

Inside Cox's Digital Training, not just a blitz but an overhaul

Teaching a team to "fish"

Alisa Cromer

Challenge: Cox Media Group (CMG) consolidated radio, television and newspaper companies under one corporate structure 18 months ago. The  sales teams from these different categories - now expected to sell digital and across legacy platforms - had different kinds of expertise and and experience levels. The first challenge to "raise the bar" for digital skills among all 1200 salespersons and managers across the country. 

Strategy:  Instead of combining a brief training session with a major sales blitz; Cox opted for a deeper level of training that would bring the whole group up to a standard level of digital expertise.  While faster, and immediately profitable forced-sale blitzes combined with training were an option,  Ulrich said “Everyone in the business has done that in their careers, but that is not what we did here.  We did this to improve digital sales skills and multimedia capability of of 1200 reps and managers because we are in this for the long 

1. Out-sourcing

 One of the first key decisions was to outsource the training. 

"We knew it would be impossible in the time framework we wanted to launch a 100% internal initiative. And we thought we would get the biggest bang for our buck by bringing in a multiple training partners," Ulrich says. 

After three months of interviewing trainers (incorporating as many executives as possible improved buy-in)  the company decided on two leading firms who would train markets simultaneously in two tiers.

For the major markets - and advanced sales reps at small markets -  they hired Laredo Group, to add “depth and sophistication” to the selling process. Laredo also trains ad agencies and has a New York training center, as well as a Florida home base.

“Having taken Leslie's training classes, I knew the level she trained at and knew it would be appropriate for our largest markets,” Ulrich told us. “Our review board thought her approach included coverage of capabilities that did not exist at our smaller-market sites.  That being said, we opted to invite digital leaders from our smaller markets to the ten Laredo Group training sessions, as well”.

Smaller markets would be trained by Florida-based CSS, which had worked with many CMG properties for years,  including the entire Cox Radio group, and the Palm Beach Post.  

 "Their focus was to customize training to make sellers in mid-sized and smaller markets more comfortable with digital and take the fear and uncertainly out of the digital media process.”

Both curriculums were three months in development and ready to launch in the fourth quarter of 2010.

  “The goal was to reach the lion's share of  CMG properties by the end of  the year.” Since the training was three days, the  all of the major markets and half of the smaller markets received two days of training by the end of the year  “to greatest impact on 2011 revenue.”

 “Three days is a long time to take sales representatives off the street, and also that meant we could only train one market per week."  The local training effort concluded in March 2011.  

 Laredo and CSS also got together for a  “mind meld” early on in the process to make sure their sales philosophies and vocabulary was consistent. 


2. Involving the digital products team, top management and creative


Another key strategy was to inclue top executives (Ulrich attended all of the sessions that did not have time conflicts with eachother), ad operations, creative and product managers.

The product development group, Cox Media Group Digital (CMGD), formed nine months ago, and was comprised of talent and resources from across the TV, radio, and newspaper properties who were consolidated into a shared space at the company's Atlanta headquarters.  The group is not a sales entity, but charged with developing CMS, ad creative and trafficking, mobile, third party relationships, and technological infrastructure. Participating in training would help close the gap in perspectives between sales and technology providers.

3. Deciding how to measure results

The first measurement of results was to test how much the sales team - and managers - learned. Laredo Group and CSS came up with a series of more than 50 questions to test digital sales knowledge and required all participants to take the test. Though the individual results were confidential, the  sellers not used to having their knowledge tested, and beliefs challenged at first questioned the the test, but ultimately everyone took it. 

Results:     With measurement tools in place, the end results were clear: The staff increased it digital knowledge by 35 % overall. Radio had a 46% lift in sales knowledge, followed by newspaper staff at 25% and television at 27%.

ROI on the  investment is more difficult to measure so early on,   training teams  to a deep understanding and comfort level digital practices take  a long range view that involves positioning the sales force to compete given the proliferation of competing local marketing opportunities.

“Very few clients are going to say ‘wow you really do know what your are talking about and that why I'm spending this money with you. That's not how it works. It works that they are buying because you are being a better sales person; the knowledge of how the digital space is going to appear to come very naturally. “

So to track performance of the program – and provide deeper knowledge of the local space – the group is collectiing examples of how reprensentatives used some aspect of the training to sell, increase or save accounts (similar to the "Winning Ads on this site).   As of March, 2011 about 50 case studies have been documented to share internally. 

Ancillary benefits are that the development group at CMGD who were part of the training program in every market became more familiar with the people, products and services at the local level.

Lessons learned

 1. The biggest surprise was “what our sales people responded too.”  Local training presentations were customized on an on-going basis. “We learned from each stop on the tour. Something someone was doing in a certain market  deserved to be addressed in the next town.  We learned as much as corporate directors about our properties as they learned from us.”

2. “One of the challenges when you own multiple media properties is to collect case studies of benefit to all.  It’s  a very difficult thing to do and achieve.” Eventually a third consultant was hired to collect and share case studies from all of the markets, but critical training comes directly out of the marketplace.

3. Training sales representatives “for the long haul” may take a different approach from training that is associated with a blitz; by nature, successful blitz’s  create simple, bundled products that sales representatives and clients can understand. Sales training on deep knowledge that  enables representatives to advise knowledgeably about ad design, performance and competive issues is a different animal, geared at the long run. 

4. Be all inclusive. As long as the trainer is there, involved advertising operations, creative and senior managers. 

Our take

We  once heard a CEO exclaim, "Our product is entertainment" to explain a multi-billion dollar shift in the industry he was in, led by a his own company's multi-million dollar investment.  A sales training company could add, "Our product is confidence" that is, at the end of the day, the value of a team that can compete in digital "chops" with everything out there in the local market place is enormous. This, Cox gets.  The proliferation of sales teams from Living Social, Pandora, ReachLocal and Google, who is rumored to have a 600 plus local sales force in the works, all going after local advertisers means that digital DNA embedded in established media sales forces is mission critical. At stake is not only the credibility of the legacy sales force in the new marketing economy, but also its ability to leverage cross platform assets that customers want.  We don't think this model competes with the blitz-oriented consultants, who drive immediate revenues. Our industry has to get used to "and" instead of "or."

Many thanks to Jeffrey Ulrich,  who will have served as Senior Director, Digital Sales Strategy & Training  for three years in August. Prior to that he worked with Meredith Tv in Atlanta and TV stations  in Rochester and Syracuse, New York.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

cox, laredo, css, ulrich,


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