This study sought to identify practices and efficiencies that have helped publishers sell more advertising and increase their revenue. Through surveys and interviews with publishers, it became clear that developing a professional sales operation was a critical component for success.

This report details different components of a professional sales operation, including recruiting and compensating sales professionals, identifying and targeting potential advertisers, and adopting a consistent rate structure and approach to sales. Companies that were able to do this reported revenue increases as a result.

Not every practice will work for every news organization. Variables such as audience, economic base of the community, and the profile and reach of the organization in the community, are key. However, these practices are offered as guidance for publishers who are starting out or who want to up their game in ad sales.

Key practices include:

  • Treat revenue development with the same urgency as breaking news

 

More successful sites devoted significant effort to sales and revenue development from the outset, including Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Home Page Media Group, which operates several local news sites in the Nashville, Tenn. suburbs, Riverhead Local on Long Island, and Noozhawk.

Meanwhile, passive sales and network advertising are not adequate to build a stable business. For example, Budget Savvy Bride and Miami on the Cheap, which depend on ad networks and CPM rates, are seeing their revenue fall. Watershed Post relied until 2014 on passive sales – merely selling to advertisers who contacted them – and saw revenue flatten.

  • Recruit sales professionals and offer competitive compensaion

Sales expertise, while often challenging to recruit, is essential an effective operation. Journalists for the most part do not take to sales; they often feel the pull of editorial, leaving a deficit on the sales side. Sales expertise might come from a hire or a partner in the company.

For example, Noozhawk in Santa Barbara, saw an increase of more than 35 percent increase in revenue after recruiting a partner to focus on revenue development.

Uptown Messenger in New Orleans nearly doubled its revenue in the year after it hired a full-time sales rep.

Alternatively, journalist publishers who sell advertising must shift more editorial work to freelancers or others. For example, Jesus Sanchez, journalist founder of Eastsider LA, believes he has become effective at sales but needs to shift more editorial work to freelancers.

Sites with the most success employ full-time sales people and offer a combination of salary and sales commission that adds up to a living wage.

Smaller sites have more difficulty paying a salary; a high commission is an alternative. Uptown Messenger in New Orleans, for example, a full-time sales rep makes 30 percent commission up to a monthly sales goal and then commission jumps to 70 percent.

Part-time, commission-only sales people may be less effective because the job is not their primary work focus.

  • Develop a rate structure and a sales playbook

An effective advertising sales operation is based on a rate structure that reflects the organization’s revenue needs, as well as a sales playbook includes a rate card, sales goals and a pitch that the site can deliver on.

Kim Clark, vice president for business development and a partner in Noozhawk, underscored the importance of a well thought out rate Structure. “You have to stick with an average rate that’s going to get you into the black.”

For example, most of the sites do not rely on CPMs (cost per thousand impressions). They lack the scale needed to deliver enough impressions to make enough money to support their operations.  Instead the try to obtain longterm contracts that command monthly rates.

The local news sites sell most of their advertising to small businesses, who advertise over a period of months to gain recognition. Niche sites, such as Search Engine Land and Technical.ly, with their well defined topic audiences, can command higher rates than CPM.

In what follows, we’ll take a more detailed look at best practices that emerged from the study in three areas: Building a professional sales force, identifying and targeting potential advertisers, and standardizing rates and sales practices.