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Digital Marketing and the Future of Media Sales: Key Questions from Borrell 2020

I had the pleasure of attending Borrell’s 11th annual digital confab, the Local Online Advertising Conference, last week in Miami. The mood at the conference was a bit surreal, as it took place just a few days before social distancing became the norm. Matt Britton, a renowned youth marketing expert, kicked off the keynote with, “Welcome to the last conference ever to occur on earth.”

Here we are a week later and with much bigger concerns at the moment surrounding COVID-19, but I hope you’ll indulge me as I discuss the big questions raised at Borrell, in the hopes that when we come out the other side of this uncertain time, we’ll have the time and renewed attention to consider some big, important questions raised at this year’s Borrell conference.

Hire a great salesperson? Or a digital marketer?

If you could only choose one, would you hire the best digital marketer and teach them sales, or would you hire a great salesperson and teach them marketing?

Corey Elliott, EVP of Local Market Intelligence at Borrell Associates, posed this question to attendees. The blending of digital marketing and sales was a hot topic at the conference, which focuses on digital media in the radio, TV, and print space.

For traditional media salespeople, selling digital media can be an extremely complex and intimidating task. The widely felt sentiment at Borrell was that, in order to survive in today’s media sales environment, AEs need to become digital-marketing experts.

How did broadcast sellers find themselves in this complicated pickle?

TV and radio stations have come to understand that their competition is no longer just the other stations in the market. Competitors now include the likes of Facebook, Google, and YouTube—essentially any platform where video and audio can be consumed.

Understanding digital competitors, and the analytics behind those platforms, is no easy task.

To illustrate the challenge that TV and radio are up against, Bill Caudill, VP of Digital Sales at Nexstar, presented a slide with over 25 different types of digital ad units sold by the Nexstar sales team. “It’s a complex space. We are asking TV sellers to be digital marketers—something that’s offered today as a four-year college degree.”

So, what is the solution? Hire the digital marketer or the salesperson?

Like the audience at Borrell, most sales leaders would probably agree that sales is an innate skill that can’t necessarily be taught. Marketing can be taught, but it takes time.

Corey Elliott thinks understanding the entire universe of marketing, especially digital marketing, is a heavy lift. Todd Handy, Chief Digital Officer at Beasley, wants to convert his organization from “a media company to ‘an agency that’s not called an agency.’”

So how do we convert sellers into a new breed of marketing ninja?

Media organizations have implemented teams of digital specialists and even sales engineers to help traditional broadcast sellers navigate the digital marketing universe, but the expectation is that the spot sellers will learn and sell digital on their own.

Beasley’s Todd Handy said that one of his organization’s strategies is to leverage the current sales channel as opposed to hiring a digital team devoted to selling only digital.

Why rely on the established sales channel to sell digital when Beasley has opted to bring in digital SMEs from the outside? “They have the longest-standing relationships with the largest brands,” said Handy. “But they also have battle scars.”

The battle scars Handy is referring to are suffered when a long-time traditional seller, often considered to be an expert in their field as well as a trusted resource by the buying community, gets stumped by a digital question and loses credibility. For that reason, Handy wants digital SMEs and traditional AEs to sell together, but he wants the traditional seller to take an active role in the sales process so that they continue to sharpen their digital skills. 

But wait, there are still more things the media salesperson needs to master!

In addition to grasping digital media, along with its metrics and measurement methodologies, AEs are also tasked with selling OTT, podcasting, and branded content.

There was even a session at Borrell focused on selling TV membership subscriptions, similar in concept to digital newspaper subscriptions, an idea that is currently being tested by Graham Media Group and Capitol Broadcasting Company.

“If we can’t motivate the local television seller to become a multi-platform seller, we won’t get anywhere,” mused Nexstar’s Bill Caudill. “We have to do a better job of educating our local sellers. We have 41 display inventory partners, 33 video partners…it’s crazy. Sellers must understand OTT metrics, DAR reports, tags, measurement—sophisticated sales-engineering stuff. Sellers must be just as astute as sales engineers.”

How do we help the traditional sellers find time to perfect their digital-marketing prowess?

Speakers at the conference drove home the point that media companies are increasingly constrained for time and resources to artfully convey the benefits of their digital offerings to advertisers. Despite this challenge, selling digital inventory is central to success in the future.

If there’s one thing I learned at Borrell, it’s that media sales organizations expect their salespeople to master new digital-marketing skills. Giving their salespeople the time to do that is essential.

And yet, media salespeople continue to devote much of their time to administrative tasks such as manual pricing and proposal building. These types of tasks are almost invariably laborious and time-intensive.

There’s a strong case to be made for deploying automated pricing and proposal-building tools not only for the improved sales results those tools deliver, but also for the time-savings they provide—time-savings that can be leveraged to master new skills and sell new products.

For over a decade, Revenue Analytics has been helping media sales organizations save time by eliminating manual pricing tasks. Our dynamic pricing product, RateOptics™, takes administrative pricing tasks away from sales managers and AEs.

Emilee Bond

Emilee Bond knows ad sales. She spent 20+ years selling advertising and media research data to Fortune 500s at orgs like iHeartMedia and Nielsen. Today she helps ad sales teams transform their operations with next-gen software and writes popular blogs in her free time.

Emilee Bond knows ad sales. She spent 20+ years selling advertising and media research data to Fortune 500s at orgs like iHeartMedia and Nielsen. Today she helps ad sales teams transform their operations with next-gen software and writes popular blogs in her free time.

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