Two years ago, I posted a blog post called Time for newspapers to start “talking the talk” of their own digital success. The blog post references the well-kept secret of the digital strength and success of many modern multi-media news(paper) media organisations.

It briefly suggests that one way to get the word out effectively is to present professional programming to current and prospective clients in the business community.

I’d like to revisit the topic today, specifically addressing the power of being the convener if not the presenting expert, thought leader, and/or innovator at the front of the room.

Although we are slowly changing perceptions, the dominant reality today is that most newspaper media companies are perceived as behind the times” or “out of touch” with cutting-edge/digital marketing technologies and techniques.

Some of us deserve that rap, but many, if not most, of us offer tools and expertise that is well ahead of our advertising clients’ current capabilities or knowledge.

Why not treat our advertising clients as “members” with special privileges and access to worthwhile programmes and expertise? Many chambers of commerce and professional associations serve, retain, and stay connected to their members by offering regular ongoing professional development programming.

We would benefit by developing a similar culture of service and engagement, developing opportunities to connect with clients in a context outside of the regular sales call, yet within a context that reinforces the value of our relationship/partnership to their business.

My experience has involved three approaches to being “in the front of the room.”

  1. Be the guest speaker.

    As a news media marketing executive I have been invited to deliver many digital marketing programmes and workshops to business, professional, and educational groups. Inevitably, at the end of each presentation, a handful of attendees approach me seeking specific assistance with their marketing needs.

    On the upside, this approach to being in front of the room involves a minimal level of effort and commitment from your organisation. On the downside, it lacks structure and predictability. It is an ad hoc approach that depends on you being invited to present and offers little or no control over who attends. It is almost always worth taking advantage when the opportunity is offered but doesn’t rise to the level of a strategic initiative.

  2. Bring in the “A” team.

    I have also worked with consultants who specialise in bringing targeted, highly polished programmes to your market. They work with you and your staff to prepare sales materials and specially priced proposals, as well as recruit appropriate attendees who are then subjected to an intense sales follow-up.

    While these programmes generally develop an immediate and demonstrable ROI, I have observed problems here as well.

    First, the process and environment closely resembles the high-pressure timeshare sales pitches we all learn to avoid and distrust. Too often, they generate a rush to failure by creating a demand on resources that the organisation is not able to properly service.

    Some clients resent being subjected to the pressure-cooker sales approach; others are disappointed for a variety of reasons: failure to perform follow-up, special rates to close sales that are not available on renewals, etc.

    Too often, short-term tactical sales success doesn’t translate into long-term strategic growth. Still, I think there is a lot to be learned from these experiences if the media organisation realises the concept can be something better than a short-term sales solution.

  3. Be the “A” team.

    I have also participated first-hand as well as observed other media organisations that have adopted the “front of the room” approach as a strategic initiative and cultural paradigm.

    This involves developing a regular, ongoing practice of offering valuable programming in both the group (best suited to small business) and the one-on-one environment (valuable working with clients above a certain volume threshold, where you can also provide client-specific content and engage in dialogue).

    While you may on occasion bring in guest speakers and/or consultants, you must invest more strategically in the development of the internal talent and resources necessary to both “walk” and “talk” the talk with clients 24/7.

    The programming is usually kept an arm’s length away from sales proposals. This serves to reinforce your expertise/objectivity and your genuine interest in the client’s business. It also prevents conditioning the client to perceive your programmes as poorly disguised attempts to leverage the next sales pitch.

Speaking from first-hand experience, I heartily encourage any organisation willing to take the long view to success to consider the third option. It enables you to embrace the opportunistic potential of No. 1 and the tactical value of No. 2, but serves to set you on a strategic course that will best maximise your long-term success in the marketplace.

Your sales team will achieve the “consultant” status you want them to have with their clients, your organisation will be regarded as a valuable source of best practice marketing knowledge, and you will reap the dividends of long-term, mutually beneficial client partnerships.