Newspapers, Local TV Sites Embrace Training for Online Media Sales

Sometimes simply being in the trenches isn’t enough to keep up with an industry, especially when one is battling for users and advertisers in the ever-morphing local media business. Newspaper publishers and local TV outlets know it. Now some are transferring their staffers out of the school of hard knocks and sending them back to the books.

Ninety editorial and sales people from Lee Enterprises papers trudged through the tundra-like climate of Davenport, Iowa recently to attend the publisher’s new Lee Online University classes. A team of twelve trainers is making the rounds to regional spots like Billings, Montana and Madison, Wisconsin for intensive three-day crash courses that will run through the end of the month.

Iowa’s 100-, 200- and 300-level courses covered subjects like the history of Internet marketing and enabling community input on sites, but in the end were more like labs than lectures. Educators introduced a new set of multimedia content tools to encourage more multimedia editorial production. Sales reps developed eight cross-media sales presentations integrating research and Web metrics and emphasizing “the reach and frequency power of our combined media offerings,” according to Lee’s VP Interactive Media Greg Schermer.

The project expands on “blitz” sales education efforts Lee has conducted for the last five years. The company’s “blitz teams” visit its newspaper offices and provide training to identify revenue targets, prospect for new advertiser clients and offer advice on best practices.

“Integrated sales present some challenges,” said Schermer. “Billing an online ad is harder and less familiar than a graphical ad that’s been billed for the last 25 years.”

During its Q4 2006 earnings call earlier this month, Gannett Company chairman, president and CEO Craig Dubow mentioned his own company’s training plans. As part of the firm’s “audience-based selling” push, Gannett will hold four-day education sessions for its sales staff to help them understand things like targeting certain audience segments, something interactive media thrives on but which is a far cry from traditional newspaper advertising.

The program, said Dubow during the investor call, “pushes that selling focus to all parts of the Gannett Company.”

Rather than offering clients old-school print ad products like full-page ads, the publisher wants its salespeople to become accustomed to selling cross-media audience segments, such as stay-at-home moms. “It’s revolutionary to ad sales people,” said Tara Connell, Gannett’s VP of corporate communications, adding, “Unlike in the past, we can say, ‘We’ll deliver a group to you.’ “

Over the next six months, hundreds of Gannett salespeople will attend four-day training sessions, mainly at the company’s Virginia headquarters. The effort complements Gannett’s ongoing editorial shift from newsrooms to platform-agnostic “information centers.” Individual newspaper teams will be responsible for delivering a plan to the publisher. Then, said Connell, “the two initiatives will begin to merge together.” In addition to understanding how their content can help an advertiser reach specific audiences, editorial staffers can assist sales teams by providing data they use in reporting, on local restaurants for instance, to the sales department, she added.

“Make the Internet really easy to price.” That’s one of the main things Bill Caudill stresses when teaching local TV station site sales folks. The director of Internet sales training for local media research and consulting firm Borrell Associates has trained TV account execs on “the business of the Internet” for years while working for firms like Fox and Belo. “The metrics are different than newspaper and television,” he continued, noting traditional media salespeople need to understand what’s different if they’re to hit their budgets. Caudill would not name any of the six clients he’s working with.

Borrell’s TV site training service launched only about a month ago, augmenting its year-old newspaper site training service. Media firms pay anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for the consulting outfit to develop a customized training program and make specific recommendations about how to bundle media or how to be more creative with ad formats. Because the firm does extensive research of local media markets, it also pairs its marketplace data with clients’ demographic data to determine promising advertiser category targets.

Other firms offering similar online ad and media training include training and consulting firm The Laredo Group, which offers a course in online advertising for newspaper reps and has served newspaper publisher clients including Media General and The New York Times Company’s the Boston Globe.

“Budgets are starting to appear for [training],” said Caudill, adding some of the more sophisticated media firms are evolving to combine online and traditional sales teams. “So it’s one big sales force selling everything.”

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