Seller’s Market

In the late 1980s my wife and I started an alternative paper. We had been running a typesetting shop so we had the production skills in hand, and we both had news backgrounds that made it a cinch to find contributors, edit their copy and fill the product with credible material. Our weakness was sales, and as I look at the new media landscape I think the winners will be those outfits that can sell, sell, sell.

That is not to minimize the technical learning hurdle old newsies like me have to overcome. But learning new production skills builds on what we know. Selling is an art that springs from personality traits that do not flourish overnight. Moreover, new media ad types and rate structures are foreign to buyers and sellers of previous media. All the parties to the sale must learn new tricks.

Last month, for instance, published an interview with online marketing expert Leslie Laredo, who cut her teeth on Internet sales back in the days of Prodigy, according to her bio. Laredo now runs a consulting firm that trains sellers and buyers so she’s not a disinterested observer. But when asked “what do you see as different now, as opposed to the earlier days of online advertising?” Laredo answered thus:

“Back in the late ’90s, in our classes of about 350 attendees, we used to see about a 3-to-1 ratio of media sellers to media buyers. Nowadays, the ratio is completely reversed. Our media buying courses are sold out. We also see more senior-level people attending our courses, like agency presidents and directors of marketing for large corporations who say that they want to become more adept at the Internet medium so they can better deal with their agencies.”

So the buyers are ready and willing. It’s time for the sellers to get up to speed, and this won’t be easy for small firms and startups that must compete for selling talent in a market that probably can’t hire enough rainmakers. Meanwhile, there is stuff to learn, Laredo advises, and it doesn’t matter if its self-serving so long as she is right when she says:

“Everyone needs to revisit the fundamentals before trying to understand new online advertising, because even the fundamentals have changed.” (In particular she mentioned new guidelines, promulgated by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, for counting online ad impressions.)

So check and recheck your plans regarding content and production. Think about community and conversation, feedback and user-generated material. But obsess over sales — or find and pamper the gifted associate who will obsess over sales for you.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media