By Jason Gillikin | December 11, 2011
So picture it. Last week, I was minding my own business, shuffling papers and whatnot, when I notice that I had a voice mail. So I listened to it, and was pleasantly surprised — it was a call ostensibly on behalf of a local TV station, inviting me to join their official roster of “featured” local businesses.
Of course I called back. And that’s where the fun begins. I will spare the guilty the shame of direct identification, and instead offer seven principles about sales in the new media ecosystem, for the benefit of struggling ad reps across the fruited plain.
First, don’t assume the person you’re cold-calling is an idiot. Better yet, perhaps you should take 15 seconds to check who your potential client is before dialing. If you’re soliciting a consultant who self-professes some expertise with business media, it’s a bad idea to talk about why advertising is a good idea as if he were 2 years old — and a worse idea to engage on this lecture if you’re shaky about the concept yourself.
Second, don’t misrepresent yourself. The ad rep who called me asserted he was calling on behalf of the TV station, and never indicated that he was interested in selling an ad. Had I known that, my expectations would have been set correctly and I could have ignored him without further ado. Instead, I had assumed that the TV station was simply expanding its business profiles through its editorial operation. As it happens, the caller wasn’t from the station at all — he was from a West Coast ad company. And when I called back, he never actually got to the “paid ad” part until about five minutes into the conversation, about a minute after I figured out that this wasn’t an editorial operation. Bait-and-switch is always bad form.
Third, don’t misrepresent your account — especially about things that can be independently verified. The ad rep made some fairly unbelievable claims about total and unique monthly site impressions for the TV station, and a quick check of various public metrics and rankings suggested that the totals were inflated by a factor of 10. The special local section of a TV news operation in a 40th-to-50th national market does *not* get more than 1.5 million page visits per month. Sorry.
Fourth, don’t pressure someone to pay you before he can even review a contract. After detailing the “wonderful benefits” from “partnering” with the TV station, I was prompted to provide my credit-card number for about $150/month for a minimum of six months. When I said I’d prefer to see a contract and receive an invoice, the ad rep pushed back; when I held firm, I got transferred to his manager. Who reiterated what the ad rep said. Nevertheless, I stood my ground, suggesting that no reputable entrepreneur would pay for a service before reviewing a contract.
Fifth, don’t put artificial limits on invoicing just to get a credit-card number. The manager finally relented and provided an invoicing option — provided I paid quarterly, with the first bill for nearly $450 due upon receipt. Or I could provide a credit card for easy monthly billing. Seriously?
Sixth, don’t suppress bad metrics by claiming “trade secret.” As part of the song-and-dance, I asked the ad rep for the average click-through rate on the ads. But the response? A variation on the theme that each advertiser’s CTR is confidential, but I could evaluate my own metrics using Google Analytics after the ad contract was executed. Usually, when online ad metrics exceed industry averages, the ad reps are happy to blow their own horn and share reports substantiating the claim, so clamming up about it suggests the rates are below average. Suggesting that CTR is confidential (no reference to this was in the ad contract, by the way) feels like a lie.
Seventh, don’t give someone a bad ad slot but still charge premium prices and suggest that he’s really getting a world-class deal. I was concerned because the huge display ads being pitched in my direction were buried well below the fold, on the right column, below other features. Even in a maximized browser, a user would have to scroll well down before she’d even see the ad, and since it’s well-established that most news readers only get through the first three paragraphs or so before moving on, the odds that the user would scroll down feels like a bad gamble. Let’s assume an average CTR is 0.25 percent (probably on the high side for B2B media consulting, but …). If you assume that the ad rep’s impression count is accurate, we’re looking at 9 million impressions in a six-month window (if my other numbers are right, generously assume 1 million). This means that I could expect between 2,500 and 22,500 clicks. Over the life of a six-month, $900 contract, my cost-per-click is somewhere between $0.04 and $0.36; my gut says it’s probably closer to $0.50 when you factor my business focus and the weak ad placement. The conversion rates for those clicked ads aren’t entirely clear. The ad company, despite my expressed preference, wanted to put me in the “Grand Rapids South” market, where the B2B media consulting market is less developed than in the central city. In any case, a Facebook ad campaign, or a targeted Google AdSense campaign, would reach a larger and more targeted audience for a much lower CPC. So — this “deal” really isn’t.
The moral of the story? Yeah, the market sucks. Ad reps still need to make a living. But deception and pressure tactics aren’t the way to go.