They do say that the best goalkeepers play for the worst teams -
they get more practice. And something similar used to be said about
media sales. People in television, for instance, were notoriously
lukewarm sales talents. They didn’t really need to punt the ITV
monopoly; all they had to do was make sure that the queue was orderly
and suitably deferential.
Does number two try harder, and do numbers three and four care even
A new survey (Campaign, last week) on the merits of media sales
operations would indicate that things are never that simple.
Commissioned by Capital Radio among buyers accounting for two thirds of
all media expenditure, the survey hands out two bouquets - to Associated
Newspapers and to Channel 4. In particular to Mike Ironside at the Daily
Mail and Simon Barnes at the Mail on Sunday; plus Simon’s brother, Andy,
at Channel 4.
Different products, very different market positions - in fact the only
thing in common is that they represent fashionable media products which
seem to have time on their side. But whether that’s a cause or an effect
of their sales success is anyone’s guess.
So what makes a good sales operation? Presumably, from the point of view
of a media planner or buyer, it’s gullibility and feeble-mindedness in
the face of negotiating firepower. No, not exactly, counters Robert Ray,
the joint managing director of MediaVest: ’They have to be able to sell
and they have to take initiatives. They need good people. And, of
course, they have to be efficient in looking after our business. But
more than anything else, the thing that marks out a good sales team is
an ability to listen to and understand the business needs of our
clients. It’s important to us that sales people are able to respond with
something that isn’t totally glib and meaningless.’
Simple enough but, apparently, extremely rare. Others in the market
agree - and it’s not always about lack of talent or training. Often it’s
down to what many planners regard as institutional short-termism and a
debilitating belief that opportunism - foraging for revenue on a daily
basis - will be more profitable than building strong long-term
The survey indicates that the gap between best and worst in any sector
is huge. Some specialists say that hasn’t been their experience
recently, but they do agree that the mavericks exist. The horror stories
are still there. And it’s ironic that the survey comes from Capital,
which until recently owned the Fawlty Towers of media sales - Media
Sales and Marketing.
MSM gained a reputation for concluding delicate negotiations and then
forgetting to run the campaign. It came to the point where the MSM
managing director, Paul Davies, wrote and apologised to agencies, citing
understaffing and technological problems.
Then there’s the longest-running horror story of all - a newspaper group
which routinely walks away from negotiations with the ’I’ll tell your
clients on you’ old chestnut - and often goes through with it, writing
letters claiming the agency’s perverse intransigence will cost the
But one sector where buyers believe that the spectrum between good and
bad has closed is television - even ITV has learned how to sell. Paul
Parashar, the broadcast director of New PHD, says: ’Channel 4 has an
excellent business development team. But ITV has changed and is
continuing to change.
It is excellent at back-up.’
All agree on one conclusion of the report - that size doesn’t
Nor does the goalkeeper principle apply medium against medium. Small
does not mean perfectly formed. In fact, the only sensible conclusion to
draw is that if you want a tip-top sales team, hire one of the Barnes