IIMA members appear more stirred than usual about the issue of integrating their print and online advertising sales teams.

Mindful of this, I asked members in recent weeks to provide feedback on the issue. I also asked about this last week during a whirlwind trip visiting media companies in Belgium, Sweden, Finland, and The Netherlands.

Here is the broad consensus among market-leading newspapers in 10 countries:

  • Happening now: First, all but a few major newspapers are integrating at this moment, seriously considering integrating, or have already integrated.

  • Improve effectiveness and efficiency: Second, the overwhelming reasons to integrate are what you might expect: effectiveness and efficiency. “Effectiveness” because the advertising community is rapidly re-tooling to embrace marketing performance across channels. “Efficiency” in that an integrated team selling multiple solutions should mean more customer contacts, having only one per visit the same client, and package selling key accounts.

  • Impediments to success: Third, there are serious impediments to success. Unionised sales forces aside, print reps are woefully trained in selling online. And there is evidence of online reps refusing to sell print. I heard one major company had half of their online sales reps quit when forced to sell an integrated package. Another impediment is the lack of an integrated back-end at newsmedia companies: inventory tracking/management, rate structure, and support systems.

  • Move with your market: Fourth, be careful that you are moving in conjunction with your market. This means advertising agencies, media buyers, and advertisers themselves. Keep products as simple as possible as this is new for many.

There is plenty of frustration in the transition. One INMA member suggested newspapers “blow up” their sales structure and start over. Specifically, put a “fence” around off-line sales teams and focus on building a new team to sell new media – preferably outsourced with proper commission structure, training, and management support. There was near universal belief that unionised sales forces couldn't be re-trained anytime soon.

Companies like The Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom and The New York Times in the United States are, as often is the case, first-movers. Yet there are some interesting lessons to be learned by Fairfax Media in Australia and Kompas Media in Indonesia in terms of interim steps that can be taken. Fairfax has integrated around its three main classifieds verticals, while Kompas has created a corporate advertising unit for integrated sales while maintaining separate print and online platform-specific sales forces.

The nuance that I picked up from this exercise was “move with your market.” The road is littered with newspapers that were pushing for integrated advertising sales 3-5 years ago, but the advertising community simply wasn't ready. The agencies and media buyers still talked platforms first. And advertisers themselves were woefully behind in terms of understanding the digital landscape. Honestly, this is still the case in many markets.

Don't make the move to integrated sales because it's an “industry trend.” Be prepared for it, and make the move with your advertising community. That means “catch-up” for some and planning for others.