I feel like a broken record. In most of my posts, I have been advocating for client-centric cultural change in newspaper/media marketing. Well, here I go again ...

Recently, a team of Star-Ledger sales and marketing staffers took a hard look at our advertising products and services sales collateral. Not surprising to anyone was the fact that our sales materials didn’t really “sell.”

The collateral primarily explained the functionality, deadlines, and pricing of our products. It served marvelously as an informative how-to guide. Only in very rare cases did any of the materials address how the client actually benefits from the investment. It presumed the value question was already addressed.

Our ad folks decided they would like collateral that “opened the door” to sales opportunities, rather than just a leave-behind for use after the sale is made. How we got there and what we developed is worth sharing.

First, we enlisted the services of Ed Efchak (Customers By Design), a person well known to INMA. As a third-party consultant, Ed was able to meet with both sales staff and clients (separately) to get frank, honest feedback about the collateral materials we were using versus what would actually be most useful to both account executives and their clients.

It was instructive to find that, in some cases, what the account executive felt the client would respond to differed from what clients thought would actually motivate them to make an investment. The most notable disconnect was in the perceived value of testimonials. We almost abandoned our original plan to include testimonials in the new collateral (based on staff feedback), and then Ed’s client interviews revealed testimonials were a powerful credibility builder for new products and new clients. To make testimonial development painless, we asked account executives to secure permission and used support staff to follow up for interview, photo, and copywriting.

The next step in the process was to summarise staff and client input regarding the value proposition associated with each product or service to be featured in collateral. Our “keeper of the truth” and chief architect in this process, David Blomquist, drafted both the copy flow/format for the new collateral series and content for each individual piece in the series. (Templating the flow and format has enabled us to rapidly expand and accelerate the development of collateral beyond the first series of 15 pieces.)

The final step was graphically presenting the information in a fresh, visually appealing format. We kept the look clean and concise, leading with the client photo and testimonial to provide additional eye appeal and personality.

Each of the new collateral units and testimonials has been subsequently reformatted to run as house ads. We plan to develop multi-media versions, as well.

The outcome of this new initiative is yet to be quantified in sales results — we’re just out of the gate. But I can speak to two unexpected bonuses:

  1. Our advertising staff is far more motivated to sell. And they sell with confidence, using materials developed with their input and that of their clients. The new collateral improved morale.

  2. Our clients feel more engaged and appreciate the gesture of soliciting their feedback. Most of them seem to really be interested in our success. Those who were asked for testimonials also valued the additional visibility.