local media insider

Seven keys to achieving 80% sell-through rates at Sun Media Corp

Alisa Cromer

Summary: Sun Media Corp. is Canada's largest publisher of tabloids and community publications. In 2009 and 2010, it increased the sell-through rate for four of its top websites to more than 80 percent, and drove prices from below $5 CPM to $22.  Here is how the company reorganized to ramp up its digital sales. 

Background:  Sun Media Corp's  Western Canada territory includes daily newspapers in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver as well as 50 community news websites.  While CalgarySun.com and EdmontonSun.com report the high sell-through rates,  Michael Christensen, director of online operations for Western Canada, says online revenue has not yet reached 10 percent of print advertising revenue. This may be a slight under-representation of digital’s total revenue, as the organization does not allocate to the digital total any percentage of revenue from "forced buys.”  Here are Christensen's seven keys to achieving higher digital sales.

1. Sell every impression. The first job of organizing the sales effort began two years ago with the decision to sell every impression, rather than use the site for forced buys and value added. Sales representatives needed to learn to talk about how to use the web site to help solve businesses' marketing challenges.  Managers created numerous bundled packages and raised prices.

2. Integrate the sales force. The company formerly had separate sales forces. Like other major media transitions, the first move was to  fully integrated its newspaper and online divisions. Online specialists were assigned to support the overall team. Sales improved almost immediately.

3. Reorganize management. Christensen, one of the four online specialists, was promoted to a newly corporate digital position, with the specialists reporting to him while supporting the local sales forces. Christensen, whose background is in telecommunications and marketing manufactured products, is one of the new group of media executives brought in from other fields who have quickly risen to leadership positions in digital sales. 

4. Shift from selling products to selling audiences. Sales representatives were trained on different kinds of targeting and how to sell audiences.  “We are asking, ‘What is your audience,’” Christensen says, “’and what section of that audience do you want to talk to?" The focus on delivering audiences increased the perceived value of the campaigns.

5. Incorporate a  consultative approach. Sales representatives are being trained to relate to advertisers with more consultation and direction, and less sales pressure. Christensen contends that advertisers with recession-led "budget reductions" are quietly shifting dollars into Internet marketing with other vendors, including Google. While such vendors may not provide the service that salespeople do, advertisers may opt for the anonymity of these providers over the pressure to buy products they do not need.

6.Increase training. Because newspaper salespeople may be perceived as less Internet savvy than pure-play marketers, Sun Media representatives must prove to customers that they are knowledgeable and valuable consultants regarding digital advertising. “In some case, we are coming to the party late,” Christensen says, “and we have to get dancing fast and have some good moves.”

 At Sun Media, training includes Christensen conducting one-hour webinars for the entire sales organization. Attendance is not mandatory for all, although sales managers may require their staff to attend. Recent topics have included frequency and contextual targeting on the site.

6. Make buying easier for larger advertisers. A goal is to make buying local as easy as buying an advertising network. As Christensen says, "If there’s one message, this is it: You need to make it easy to do business with you.”

7. Improve  products and creative services. Sun Media is working on deploying new content channels and specialty content sections and, on the advertising side, developing internal creative capabilities that can rival anything a client would receive from an outside provider.

Conclusion: Many of the strategies used by Sun Media Corp are familiar; they are similar to those used by most successful media companies who are gaining traction in the digital space.  Key tenets we've seen at other companies include top down support for digital sales, integrating the sales force, keeping specialists to assist the team, a separate reporting structure for the digital team and focus on training. Like most companies succeeding in the digital space, Sun Media has also found or hired key digital evangelists within the company and promoted them to leadership positions. 

The new sales force requires leaders, not just managers.  It is difficult to convey in an executive brief, but a common thread among successful ad directors we've talked to is passion for transforming how sales are made, as well as common sense about how to get things done.

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.  


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