INTERNATIONAL SALES: MEDIA JET SETTERS - Expense account playboys or essential profit powerhouses? Working in international sales may sound like a dream job, but it’s highly pressured and difficult to break into. Mark Tungate reports

International sales people inspire envy and irritation. To outsiders, they seem to have unlimited expense accounts, stacks of air miles and bar tabs from here to Shanghai. The high rollers of their profession, they exude a James Bond-style glamour which makes the rest of us feel like Del Boy on a slow week.

International sales people inspire envy and irritation. To

outsiders, they seem to have unlimited expense accounts, stacks of air

miles and bar tabs from here to Shanghai. The high rollers of their

profession, they exude a James Bond-style glamour which makes the rest

of us feel like Del Boy on a slow week.

But surely there’s more to working in international sales than business

class flights and four-star hotels? What do these people really do? And

how can you join the club?

The mission

As an international sales executive, your brief is to generate revenue

from overseas markets. The post generally involves overseeing a team at

your home base, while also managing a network of reps in key


Often, it requires you to identify new markets and appoint reps


This - along with keeping your reps keen and happy - is what takes you

away from home so frequently.

The amount of travel you’re likely to do varies from job to job. Desmond

Sowerby, international advertisement director at Associated Newspapers,

estimates that he does at least 25 flights a year, from short European

hops to two-week treks around Asia. Peter Shield, European sales

director at new media sales house 24/7, says he’s on the road ’pretty

much constantly’.

Get into a conversation with Eric Clemenceau, senior vice-president,

advertising sales, for CNN International, and he’ll tell you that the

weather this week is better in Paris, Zurich and Dusseldorf than it is

in London.

While Clemenceau acknowledges that the internet has made life easier,

none of the globetrotters feel that e-mail, teleconferencing or video

conferencing reduce the need for foreign travel.

’You can’t manage people from a distance,’ Shield says, ’especially when

you’re dealing with different cultures. Some people would consider it

impolite if I sat in an office in London firing off e-mails. You need

the emotional, humanising element of meeting somebody face to face,

having a chat and a gossip.’

Nick Edgley, international ad manager at the Telegraph Group, would


’You need to appreciate the problems your reps face, so to some extent

you’ve got to do what they do. You also need to get as close to the

clients as possible.’

Sowerby says the job is still ’greatly dependent on personal


He adds: ’I don’t know anybody who really believes you can do a deal

without meeting and trusting the person you’re dealing with.’

This is especially true when you’re trying to sell your product into new

markets. You can’t cold-call a culture.

The skills

So what attributes do you need to work in the international sector? The

three most important are adaptability, diplomacy and what that

inveterate traveller Hemingway called ’grace under pressure’.

For a start, you may find yourself juggling a network of 30 or more


You’ll probably need to forge relationships with media agencies across

the globe - although the Telegraph’s Edgley says this has become easier

’since agencies have got their act together on the international

co-ordination front’.

Good communication skills are vital, says Martin Waterkeyn, advertising

sales director at Time Atlantic. ’You may have to liaise with a sales

person in Munich, an agency in Paris, a lead agency in New York and a

client in Texas.’

Crucially, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of several different

markets. Clemenceau says: ’In a way you have to be a bit of a chameleon.

I behave differently in the UK from the way I do in France or Germany,

simply because the cultures are different.’

Additionally, you’ll need to monitor the economic situation. ’If a

market which has been performing well suddenly starts to slide, you’ll

need to know why,’ says Edgley. ’There’s a danger that you can put all

your eggs in one basket and try to pull all your revenue from one

buoyant market. But it’s best to get an even spread.’

As in the UK, the ability to think creatively is an advantage. Waterkeyn

confirms: ’Creativity is becoming more and more important. The days when

you could just go out with a ratecard and negotiating skills are gone.

Everyone is looking for the big idea.’

Working abroad requires a combination of self-reliance and team


’You must be the kind of person who doesn’t mind his own company, but

who can also motivate a team,’ Clemenceau says.

On the adaptability front, you must be prepared to give up large chunks

of your personal time. You’ll be travelling at weekends, meeting

contacts in the evening and pounding on your laptop in departure

lounges. Clock watchers need not apply.

Finally, Clemenceau says, you should learn how to handle jet lag. ’The

secret is to sleep every time you get on a plane. No food, no wine, no

duty free. Just sleep.’

The downside

Living out of a suitcase has its drawbacks. Travelling may seem

glamorous, but it’s no fun sitting in a hotel room at 10pm with a

mini-bar for a mate.

’There are good days and there are bad days,’ says Shield. ’There are

days when you get up at five in the morning, catch a plane, have a

meeting in an anonymous office and then go back to an anonymous hotel.

Then there are days when you fly into Milan, catch up with the team, eat

a fantastic lunch, have a productive meeting and go out with them in the


Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, worldwide ad director at the International

Herald Tribune, has been known to complain about travelling. ’But that’s

when I’ve been on the road for two weeks on the trot. If I didn’t

travel, I’d miss it. There’s nothing like the buzz of a successful sales

trip to a market you’re beginning to open up.’

The Financial Times’ Ben Hughes, whose title of regional director for

continental Europe, Middle East, Africa and India gives some indication

of the time he spends abroad, says business travel is never as glamorous

as it sounds. He adds: ’You don’t get much time for sightseeing. But I

love the challenge of encouraging people in different countries to work


Jane Furby, advertising sales director of The Wall Street Journal in

London, says travel is a bonus. ’The most rewarding aspect of the job is

working on an international basis every day, whether it’s phoning Asia

when you get in to work, or meeting guests from Latin America in the


According to Sowerby, who has worked in international since the 1960s,

travelling has become more wearing. ’I love getting where I’m going but

as security has become tighter, I find myself hanging around airports

for longer. And you do get homesick. You can find yourself longing for a

mug of tea and a fry-up in a transport caff.’

Along with most of his peers, Sowerby lists missing his family as one of

the job’s major drawbacks. Clemenceau adds: ’You definitely have to make

sure your partner is cool about your frequent absence. My family don’t

know where I am for days at a time.’


So now you’ve heard the pros and the cons, are you still hungry for the

high life? Want to see new places, experience different cultures?

How do you get into international sales?

Unsurprisingly, there is no set route (see box opposite). But some

people seem predisposed to wandering the planet. Often, they experienced

other cultures early in their lives.

For instance, Desmond Sowerby is the son of a tea planter and was born

and raised in India. Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, who describes himself as an

’army brat’, was born in Canada. Martin Waterkeyn has a French mother

and an English father.

Headhunter Julie Salamon, of The Salamon Company, warns would-be

globetrotters that they might have to start out in a domestic

department. ’Jobs like this tend to be advertised internally, so the

best way is to get into an international company like Dow Jones

(publisher of The Wall Street Journal) and wait until the opportunity

presents itself. You should also let people know you’re interested in an

international role.’

Eric Clemenceau is a good case in point. He was originally appointed to

set up CNN’s French office, which consisted of a computer and a

secretary who was also ’an assistant and an ad sales person, depending

on who she was calling’. But the Frenchman clearly made the right


’I’ve grown with the company,’ he says. ’Sometimes you can spot

potential growth areas. These days, it might be worth joining a new

media company which is just starting to expand overseas.’

Salamon admits it’s often a case of who you know. ’It’s quite an

incestuous community. You may only get to hear about a job by word of

mouth.’ To lay the groundwork, you could hone your international

survival skills. Peter Shield did an MA in international politics before

moving into the field. Others are fluent in a foreign language -

although apparently this isn’t essential. ’Employers ask for a language

about 50 per cent of the time,’ says Salamon. Nick Edgley says: ’I don’t

think it’s particularly necessary. In a way, that’s what your reps are


One thing is for sure - once you’ve caught the travel bug, it’s very

difficult to shake off. Ben Hughes says: ’I’d certainly find it hard to

move, unless it was to another international title.’

’Right now,’ says Peter Shield, ’I couldn’t imagine going back to a job

that was purely domestic.’



1983 Joined Time as a sales executive based in Paris

1989 Promoted to sales director

1997 Promoted to area sales director with responsibility for the


1998 Became ad sales director, Time Atlantic, in London


1981 Taught English and business studies at Sorbonne in Paris.

1983 Joined FT as circulation executive for France, then publishing


1991 Moved to UK to become European ad director

1995 Made worldwide ad director


1966 Joined IPC Transport Press in sales

1970 Transferred to IPC Overseas sales

1971 Joined Export Times as advertising manager

1977 Appointed by German financial daily Handelsblatt as UK manager

1985 Moved to Canadian paper

Globe & Mail, set up Hong Kong office, later ran European sales

1989 Joined Associated Newspapers to set up international sales


1990 Worked for Vogue writing advertorials

1990-91 Moved into ad sales for Conde Nast

1991 Joined Eurocom (now Euro RSCG) to work on the Peugeot account

1992 Asked to set up CNN’s French sales office.