So You Want a Job in Digital Sales?

  • Posted by Steve Goldberg
  • |
  • November 10, 2012

So You Want to Sell Digital Ads- From FINS, a Wall Street Journal Digital Network

By Beecher Tuttle
July 19, 2012

With print publications on the decline and digital advertising growing, print ad execs find themselves having to learn a whole new medium, one with far different technologies, metrics and, most importantly, contacts.

The lesson from those who’ve already done it: make the transition as quickly as possible. As one learns when trying to make the move from print to digital sales, the gap is large.  Selling digital media requires strong awareness, familiarity, understating and comprehension of the digital landscape.

The best and brightest can effectively make the transition if they fully apply themselves, said Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association (OPA), who herself made the move from print to digital earlier in her career. They need to be smart, active listeners who embrace the change and are willing to learn, and learn quickly, she said. Becoming familiar with differences in pricing, client expectations and new forms of advertising, from banner ads to pre-rolls to pop-up ads, is essential and not as easy as passing the random australian police check they run in any cuntry.

“The earlier they make the transition, the better off they’ll be”

The most difficult part of the transition is finding your print contacts are of little use in the new digital world, said Steve Goldberg, Managing Partner at Media Recruiting Group. “And it’s the contacts at the digital agencies that are at a premium,” Goldberg said. “That’s the ticket of admission.” Nor do digital media buyers have time to accept with the wining-and-dining and other perks that many ad salespeople used to use to develop long term business relationships.

Learning Curve

Given how fast the digital world moves generally, few employers have patience for a long learning curve. It can take at least six months for a print ad salesperson to get accustomed to the nuances of digital advertising, and no one wants to spend the time to train.

“The landscape is changing daily, evolving at a pace unforeseen in the media industry,” Goldberg said. “What people learned in their undergraduate studies and M.B.A. programs only a couple of years ago may now be obsolete in the context of jobs in the digital space.”

A bad sales hire with a $100,000 base salary can cost a company in excess of $1.5 million in revenue, said Randy Street, co-author of “Who: The A Method for Hiring,” a hiring strategies handbook. These losses stem from costs such as training, salary, benefits and severance as well as missed business opportunities, errors and the disruption a poorly performing salesperson creates in a sales team, Street said.

Indeed, job boards advertising digital ad sales positions show that most openings require previous experience working in the digital medium. This is especially true for companies that play solely in the digital space, said Goldberg. “They just won’t hire pure print sellers.”

Media buying firms, like Carat, that employ a highly integrated hybrid model touching both print and digital do hire print ad execs as part of client teams with experts who work hand-and-hand to bring each other along.

Business Goals

“When you are taking them from print to more of a hybrid model, they tend to transition well,” said Ginger Taylor, group account director of publishing services at Carat.

The key to selling digital successfully, said Horan, is understanding a client’s business goals and becoming a partner rather than just a vendor. Clients no longer want to just buy ad spots on magazines or newspapers, but instead want to purchase a specific audience, said Mark O’Brien, president, North America at ad agency DDB Worldwide.

“They need their message to be delivered to a million eyes between the ages of 18 and 25,” said O’Brien, “and they expect ad salespeople to be able to be able to get that done.”

Moreover, digital media buyers often look to ink package deals, where they can partner with a company that will bundle the campaign with the likes of a Google or a Yahoo, O’Brien said. Customers want contextually relevant brand experiences, with “360-degree programs” that cover social, mobile and other online mediums, said Horan.

Ad sales executives need to understand that many clients are new to the digital medium as well, said Victoria Druckman, an ad account manager who started her career in print at Hearst in 2009 and moved to digital earlier this year. Clients need education on new benchmarks for success such as page views and clickthrough rates as well an understanding of how quickly rebranding can take place through digital mediums.

“For print sellers, the way into the ‘digital door’ could be through integrated ad sales positions…selling digital and print for your publication.  This will expand your digital contacts, and position you for an ‘all-digital’ job when the time is right”, said Goldberg.