WHEN THE SELLING GETS TOUGH ... Sales are plummeting, the audience has scarpered and rival media have moved in for the kill. So how do the sales staff cope? Rob Gray reports

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.

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

other channels.'

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

about 100,000.

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

was pulled.

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

of strategy.

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

circulation titles.

'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

mea culpa.'

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.



The problem

A vintage title whose numerous relaunches meant that readers and

advertisers were no longer sure of its identity.

The solution

Targeting smaller advertisers who could afford Punch's rates and benefit

from its niche readership.

The result

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



The problem

Heavily criticised by other media for gimmicks like the News Bunny.

Small audience.

The solution A dedicated sales team played on the fact that the channel

was popular with 16- to 34-year-old males.

The result

The channel has found favour with a number of heavyweight



The problem

The magazine for thirtysomething women was too trendy and esoteric for

its own good. Readers steered clear.

The solution

Repositioning the title as a unique, cutting-edge product, totally

unlike other women's magazines.

The result

There weren't enough cutting-edge readers to save the magazine.

Following Wagadon's purchase by Emap, it remains in limbo.

Become a member of Campaign

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a member

What is Campaign AI?

Our new premium service offering bespoke monitoring reports for your company.

Find out more

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an alert now

Partner content