Dealing with the elephant: Hire Web-native salespeople

This is the third post in a short series I’m going to write about the business model for online news before I go back to my usual habit of banging my head up against walls made out of giant rolls of newsprint.  The starting point, the givens in the equation, are listed here.  Suggest what I should throw my weight at next using the Skribit widget in the sidebar of my blog.

Elephant in the room, part deux. by Cody Simms on Flickr
Elephant in the room, part deux. by Cody Simms on Flickr

Perhaps you’ve read, once or twice, a screed that I or others have written about what sort of skills an entry-level reporter should have these days if they expect to get a job anywhere other than a community weekly. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The problem is, I don’t know if anyone has given your advertising department the same speech.

This is a crucial step in the incremental-growth projects I’m laying out here.

Because you can’t sell video business listings if your salespeople don’t know what’s going on in the online video world.  Because you can’t explain why your business directory looks so superior to search engines if you don’t read up on SEO.  Because you certainly can’t explain your local blog network to advertisers if you’re not familiar with the traffic and content and level of activity in the local blogosphere.  Because you can’t sell a fleet of niche social networks to advertisers if you can’t explain the value of the Long Tail.

The list goes on, full of things that should be obvious to news content producers at this point, but what about advertising content producers?

That’s right, you’re going to need sales reps who can produce content; I’m talking about something more than a graphic artist here.

Here’s what I’d be looking for in an ad sales rep if I were hiring one today:

  • Blogs and reads blogs.
  • Participates in social networks.
  • Knows how to shoot, edit, post video, and watches online video.
  • Has marketing skills beyond stickers and t-shirts.  Can make an engaging presentation in any format, whether it’s a handshake/smile/chat, Powerpoint, flip chart, or video conference.

And if you can’t find someone who can fill that role full-time, consider hiring a local videographer or small production house to put together advertising video from time to time.  Find a local partner and try to pay them (in part) with a sponsorship or advertising in trade.

When it comes to marketing, keep in mind that you, news producer, desperately need to get across to sales reps what it is that’s new, different, better, improved about your online product.

That means making presentations to them about new products, verticals, databases, and your fancy new content management system.  Yes, to be clear, I’m saying that you absolutely must get up from your desk and go stand in front of a room of advertising employees and explain to them why that mashup you just built is so cool, and what sort of advertisers you think might be interested.

Crazy, right? News and advertising working together?  Get used to it.  If you can’t find sales reps that understand what you’re working on, then you’ll need to consider going out on sales calls with them yourself.

That doesn’t mean you need to start memorizing rate cards and upselling, it means that you, person who built that awesome map with all the data overlays of crime, liquor store robberies, and standardized test scores, need to go tell the community (read as: the chamber of commerce, or the Elks, or the Rotary Club) why your project is so cool.

So get out there.  Hire people who can sell more than a banner ad.  Train your current reps to shoot and edit video.  Don’t skip over the advertising department when the new computers and cameras get ordered.  Write simple one-page summaries of the cool stuff you build online, and send it out to the whole department.

Hire like you mean it.

Hire a sales force for tomorrow’s product, not yesterday’s.

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