You saw the ad, you were tempted by the basic and you liked the
commission scales. Unfortunately, you've since discovered the product is
a turkey. Or maybe the magazine you've been working on for years has
suddenly sailed into the mother of all storms. One minute you're sorted,
next minute you're tearing your hair out.
It could be that audience figures are in freefall or rumours of closure
are doing the rounds. Perhaps content quality is under attack or some
kind of controversy has broken out that might drive cautious advertisers
Whatever the reason, it's backs-against-the-wall time. There's a problem
to contend with and the big question is; how do you shift space when the
media property you represent is in the line of fire? After all,there's
no running up the white flag with the boss still breathing down your
neck and targets to reach.
'You have to be positive about it,' says Attic Futura's group
advertisement director, Caroline Connor, who sold space on the previous
(ailing) incarnation of Punch in the late 1980s. 'Talk to people about
what you're doing to put it right. There's no point in running away and
hiding. You might not have the luxury of working on a market-leading
title, but a good sales person should always be able to put together a
positive case for it.'
'You have to add value,' says Live TV sales director Jon Waters.
'No-one's going to get fired for not buying Live TV. So what we have to
provide is added value or key demographics that are more expensive on
Live TV has, of course, been the butt of scathing criticism for the
quality of its programming, with fixtures such as the News Bunny and The
Weather in Norwegian frequently disparaged in other media. Yet, assisted
by the growing penetration of cable TV, the channel has managed to shed
its joke image among some serious advertisers.
Procter & Gamble, BT and Carlsberg-Tetley are three of the big names to
have bought airtime. Sales revenue at the channel, as at July 1999, is
said to be up 80 per cent year on year.
How has this been done? For a start, by using a dedicated sales
Until January 1998, sales house Laser was selling the channel's
Waters took the view that it was preferable to have a team that 'knows
and breathes the brand'. Much of this team's focus when dealing with
agencies and clients is the high proportion of 16- to 34-year-old males
in the Live TV audience base - the infamous 'lads' market - or 'the All
Bar One crowd' as Waters defines them.
The other weapon in the armoury is good old-fashioned customer
'Don't make the sell too difficult for the buyers,' says Waters. 'They
have to batter their heads against the wall to deal with ITV every day.
So we try to make it fun for them when they deal with us.'
That is a view endorsed by Channel 5 sales director Nick Milligan. Like
Live TV, the UK's fifth terrestrial channel has been criticised by some
for the poor quality of its programming. And, like Live TV, it has a
high percentage of males among its viewers and has sold itself on
audience profile rather than mass.
Milligan thinks that 'empathy' with buyers while working hard for them
has helped a great deal in a polarised TV marketplace, with small cable
and satellite channels at one end and at the other ITV, a station that
many advertisers still regard as an essential part of their
'The skills gap between selling and negotiating has never been more
marked than it is in television today,' says Milligan.
He also claims to have occasionally used the 'fear factor' in dealings
with buyers, implying that if they chose not to support the fledgling
channel in its early days, favourable deals might have been denied them
at a later stage. Clearly, this was a risky strategy, but steady
improvements in Channel 5's audience ratings and advertising revenue
suggest optimism was not out of place.
Unfortunately, things do not always turn out so well for media
properties in trouble. Take the case of Frank, the magazine aimed at
thirtysomething women launched in September 1997 by Wagadon, publisher
of the Face and Arena. The aim was to achieve a monthly circulation of
Things initially looked bright, with the first issue selling about
130,000 copies and carrying advertising from upscale brands such as
Ralph Lauren Fashion, Dior Couture, Prada, Moschino, Audi, Harrods and
But while the advertising content was top-notch - particularly for a new
player in the market - the editorial package plainly was not. It was
perceived as impenetrable to all but a narrow clique of highly
fashionable Londoners. The second issue bombed to about 45,000
'We launched a disappointing product so the whole generosity of the
market turned,' says Frank's former senior sales executive, Catherine
In extremis, the Frank sales team tried to avoid positioning the title
against any of its competitors in the women's magazine sector. 'We sold
it as the only contemporary cutting-edge women's title,' says
But even in a niche of one, ABC figures do not lie. Sales refused to
rise from about the 40,000 mark. While some advertisers stayed loyal,
others gave up the ghost. It was only a matter of time before the plug
Following the acquisition of Wagadon by Emap, Frank is in limbo,
although the title's new owner is said to be considering re-launching it
next year as a fashion collections-based quarterly.
One title that Emap has definitely killed off is Parents, the last issue
of which was published this summer. The mother and baby sector of the
magazine market has been tough this year, with National Magazine
Company's M also biting the dust.
Emap's sales strategy with Parents was to offer it as part of a package
with its sister titles in the sector, including the then market-leading
Mother & Baby. But when circulation slumped to about 43,000, Emap
decided to cut its losses and shut it down.
Punch would probably be glad of as many readers as Parents had. But
despite persistent predictions of its demise since its relaunch under
the proprietorship of Mohammed al Fayed, it has struggled on. The reason
why it still survives, says Punch ad manager Baruch Fahey, is a change
At first, the relaunched magazine aimed for the big brand-name
advertisers found in lifestyle magazines. Now, it targets smaller
companies, with such concerns as the Blue Angel strip club among its
regular advertisers .
Says Fahey: 'The big advertisers don't want to advertise with a small
title. But if you say 'we're small but do a specific thing with a
specific audience', you can get advertisers who want to do a similar
This is also, on a far greater scale, the secret of The Observer's
Despite lagging well behind The Sunday Times and The Sunday Telegraph in
copy sales, it is able to attract big-name advertisers because of the
nature of its audience. Its political stance, media and arts coverage
attracts a type of reader not always reachable through the bigger
'In essence you are trying to make one of your readers worth more than
one reader of The Times or The Telegraph,' says Observer ad manager Joe
Clark. 'That sort of approach is much harder if you haven't got the
quality of readership. We do client-based selling. That means you've got
to understand what the agency or client wants to achieve from a
Not all crises are down to circulation dives. Some are caused by
controversy over editorial content. Such was the case with GQ and the
infamous issue edited by 'lad mag' supremo James Brown. The magazine
listed Field Marshal Rommel in a feature on the 200 most stylish men of
the 20th century. It also included a photo spread of a woman trussed up
in a blood-spattered bath.
A watch brand and a fashion advertiser pulled their advertising in
disgust, leaving GQ publisher Peter Stuart with little option but to
write them letters of apology. Says Stuart: 'It is a question of damage
All we can do is defend something - if it is defensible. Some of the
Nazi stuff was indefensible and when that's the case all you can say is
Brown paid for the incident with his job, which appeased the other
advertisers. Stuart, meanwhile, says he is confident that the two
advertisers who walked will soon be back in the fold. A little
contrition can go a long way.
CLASSIC HARD SELLS
A vintage title whose numerous relaunches meant that readers and
advertisers were no longer sure of its identity.
Targeting smaller advertisers who could afford Punch's rates and benefit
from its niche readership.
Reports of Punch's demise appear to have been exaggerated. Smaller
advertisers have injected revenue. The title's revamp and incisive
editorial are winning it new fans. However, its circulation remains
Heavily criticised by other media for gimmicks like the News Bunny.
The solution A dedicated sales team played on the fact that the channel
was popular with 16- to 34-year-old males.
The channel has found favour with a number of heavyweight
The magazine for thirtysomething women was too trendy and esoteric for
its own good. Readers steered clear.
Repositioning the title as a unique, cutting-edge product, totally
unlike other women's magazines.
There weren't enough cutting-edge readers to save the magazine.
Following Wagadon's purchase by Emap, it remains in limbo.