IIMA held a seminar last week in Chicago on integrated advertising, and I gleaned four strategic insights.

First, there’s a large gap between newspapers that do and don’t possess the research skills necessary to support metrics-based advertising sales. The unique value proposition that newspapers should convey to advertisers is the rich data behind the creative execution – a point driven home time and again by the advertising community that one day soon will be making buys exclusively on numbers.

Second, even for the newspapers rich in data and rich in proactive advertising “hunters,” there is a major gap in processing that data into an elevator conversation for sales reps – especially with the tricky transition to multi-media sales. I sensed an urgency to bridge that gap, but no clear road map. This really is where a national trade association is needed to step in and make that connection for their newspapers.

Third, advertisers want a single sales rep managing the newspaper toolkit of advertising options – and newspapers, to this day, aren’t ready for this. I heard tale of eight platform specialists and evangelists (“caterpillar sales”) making calls on a single person, prompting amusement and disgust from the advertiser. One speaker at the Chicago seminar suggested it will take five years to develop reps who can truly master all platforms as well as the emotional and data sides of the sale.

Fourth, we don’t need to integrate print and digital advertising sales because it’s the “right thing to do.” We need to do it if the advertising community to whom you are marketing needs it. In the Chicago seminar, it was clear that is mission-critical to Tribune and CanWest selling to big brands nationally across the United States and Canada. I was surprised that it was not as critical to big dailies in terms of local retail sales – yet – because the local advertising communities are only now catching on to integrated sales and organising themselves for that fight.

There is no need for a religious conversion to integrated advertising sales until your target advertisers are ready. Yet there are many shades of gray beyond full integration that newspapers to be prepared for. Example: You want to be the newspaper that has multi-media options ready when advertisers are ready for, say, social media. You want to be the newspaper that, in a market where advertisers aren’t generally ready for the multi-media hybrid newspaper packaging liquid content, can still put together a custom package for advertisers who are ready.

Tricky transition. Lots of work to be done to get beyond the drawing boards.