Collaborative selling to ad agencies builds trust in news media

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Greetings from London, England. Welcome again to the latest INMA Advertising Initiative newsletter.

In this edition, I want to focus on selling our platforms, packages, etc., to advertising agencies, who of course act on behalf of their clients. 

I recently held a conversation with some of my Advertising Executive committee, who are very much at the heart of this topic in their media businesses. Find out what they had to say below. 

Also, I thought it would be a good idea to share my views on the recent Twitter sale and what that means for the advertising industry from a media perspective.

I hope you enjoy the read? Firstly, agencies …

Collaborative selling 

A few years back, in the post-iPhone/iPad launch era, I led the charge for the Daily Telegraph here in London on introducing “mobile” into consciousness of mainly young agency media planners and buyers. 

As smartphone penetration became more prevalent globally, there was a need to educate agency staff on the “power of mobile" from an advertising perspective and get on their radar as a premium channel sell. 

There was a time mobile was seen as an add on, meaning selling to ad agencies had to be done differently.
There was a time mobile was seen as an add on, meaning selling to ad agencies had to be done differently.

Up to that point, mobile was seen as an add on to existing schedules and wasn’t viewed by many as a channel in its own right. 

I realised there was little point going into an agency and talking mobile rate cards and costings as many of our media competitors were doing exactly that. We were in danger of being just the next media house “selling their wares” and being perceived as being bereft of imagination, with no creativity and no flair. In that environment, we would be lucky to get one or two junior members of staff to see us and politely listen to a few words on packaged prices from us, take our rate card, and then disappear fast back to their desks.

So, I took the angle of a creative roadshow as part of what would become a collaborative sell.

I am sure you might well do something of this ilk already, but in my case, I thought about our USP(s) and used, in our case, my own INMA experience giving a talk (to the entire agency, as it often was the case suddenly) on the future of media. I creatively interspersed some rate card information into the mix, and everyone got a rate card/pack in some form post-event. But the focus was more on helping them (those young media planners and buyers chiefly) understand how the media industry worked and was changing — the very industry they had to work with.

Throw in a bit of sparkle — in my case a bit of relevantly themed fun via some fun, magic/illusion with a prize for a lucky volunteer! — and everyone went away thinking they have been entertained whilst learning something of value.

We then followed that up with what we called “immersion days” — a digital/print deep dive into the opportunities, packages, and platforms using, for example:

  • Giant Twitter walls to creatively show the birth and journey of Telegraph tweets.
  • An interactive screen-based coffee table showing Telegraph content in a unique way whilst envisaging how readers might one day costume our content at home.
  • Specially printed newspapers with every conceivable print version of an ad inside, which were also AR-enabled to show the digital versions, too.                                                                 

These are just a few examples of how we made them see we were not their “father’s newspaper,” but instead a thriving, vibrant, relevant, multi-media news brand. 

Advertising agencies may need more bells and whistles to understand the complete offering of a news media company these days.
Advertising agencies may need more bells and whistles to understand the complete offering of a news media company these days.

Then, added to the above, we ran “print-to-digital” workshops where we told everyone there was no such thing as a stupid question as “we are all learning together.” You’d be amazed at what came out! 

The point is, this was the start of a consultative approach to our agency folk and cemented our position as experts in what we did and that we were friendly, approachable masters of our own industry.

It was truly incredible how this transformed how we were perceived, and we could see tangible results following in terms of actual sales increases.

We were (rightly) trusted.

So, I told all this to my advertising committee members, specifically to Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (Canada), and to Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (New Zealand). What was their take on how to deal with agencies today from inside their operations? 

Well, collaborative selling is very much at the forefront of the thinking.

The Globe and Mail started (pre-pandemic) with its own education days. Tracy Day told me: “We found that agency planners and buyers were not familiar with newspapers for a start. They didn’t read them. However, when we invested in educating them, we saw real results.” 

Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (left), and Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (right).
Tracy Day, managing director of ad products and innovation at The Globe and Mail (left), and Steve Hutton, group sales director at at Stuff (right).

Steve Hutton said this: “Young people in agencies don’t tend to pick up a newspaper. For them, it’s all about the story, which makes them look like rock stars. We try to educate on how to grow their client brands with our help. Our competitors, we found, seem to talk at them. Instead, we help them, for example, learn how to read and use research properly. It’s beyond performance marketing. We try and help them find the magic to make them look good in front of their clients.”

Steve added: “CPM models work for us, too. They get that. They understand CPM so we bundle up on that basis. It then becomes not about platform. Everything becomes valuable.” 

Tracy: “Client direct works best. When we can, we go direct. It may go through an agency ultimately via the client, but we get much more business if direct.” 

This point amplifies what ad agency guru Sir John Hegarty told the INMA master class earlier this year: that if we can target clients direct and give them the tools to educate agencies from their end, too, it’s a win/win.

Steve: “We also have ‘partnership people’ inside our business who actually work for the agency as part of their education. It’s too big a market not to take it all seriously. Agencies can be lacking in resource. Many downsized during the pandemic. Any assistance therefore from us is really well received.”

Steve shared these four stages of communicating to agency teams: 

  1. The basics.What essentials they need to know about media.
  2. Ideation. Collaboratively working together on new ideas that really work, using our experience, and how to think creatively.
  3. Programmatic. Making it easy for them to understand. How can they transition to a private marketplace for instance?
  4. Growth partnerships.What objectives are there for the next 12 months? How can we help them achieve them and help them be successful? 

“We get a 100% open door for doing this,” Steve told me. “Also, it’s worth noting that many agency people are judged on the brands they bring on and develop … and the awards they win. We have built a collaborative programme based on both strategy and tactics — from walking through the brief (tactical) at the outset, to delivery of objectives and beyond (strategic). We found we needed to change. We were previously getting to a position where we were just responding to briefs, but now we have a new way of thinking.” 

I then asked Tracy and Steve if they thought an unconscious bias exists when it comes to choosing media for clients inside agencies? 

Tracy: “Yes, it exists. It’s easy for them to ‘get’ certain media as they use it themselves. But there are audiences and platforms we can offer that are unique and powerful. We help them with the ideation, for example developing custom content around areas of importance. It’s sometimes hard, but we educate them as much as we can and it pays off.”

Steve: “We took the position of asking them where they need to be for their client to be happy. It prompts the question from the agency on how do they get to be No. 1 in their market (and award-winning) where they can win as well as the client. It becomes clear quickly that it’s not achieved by just concentrating on what they already know. We can provide a new dynamic and new thought process.”

And what of print? Should it be a part of our offerings still? 

Tracy: “Never be apologetic for offering print! Packaging print with digital is really powerful. We can back it up, too. It works! Don’t be afraid to force packages onto advertisers.” 

Steve: “Never indeed. Push the brand safety of print. This is our super power within agencies against Facebook. Use it.”   

So, In summary, it’s all about getting closer, understanding agency thinking/ethos, their (maybe, unconscious) bias, their weaknesses in eduction/learning, and then challenging all this — inspiring them to greater heights with our help and expertise.

Any last points? 

Steve: “Brand and creative agencies are used still by many advertising clients, but they don’t always need a buying agency. Is there a gap for publishers here?” 

Food for thought for all media companies?

And while you ponder that, remember to make them (those young media planners and buyers) look like rock stars. When we do, we are halfway to helping ourselves.

Elon Musks US$44 billion Twitter deal: What might it mean to the ad industry? 

Described by many industry folk as “a major disruption to its ad business,” Elon Musk certainly made no secret about wanting control of Twitter and now he has achieved his dream. 

The media industry had many reactions to the Elon Musk/Twitter news.
The media industry had many reactions to the Elon Musk/Twitter news.

The world’s wealthiest man said: “Twitter has tremendous potential. I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it.”

So how could this affect advertising brands and agencies? Here’s what a few leading ad agency people had to say:

Key industry quotes

Karen Benson, executive vice-president/director of integrated media at Deutsch in New York, said:

“The idea that Elon Musk is going to solve the ‘free speech issue’ on Twitter is something that brands need to be mindful of when they think about content their brands align with — coupled with the potential that consumers may not be as engaged or weary of the platform if it becomes the wild west! Also, what will the role of ads be on Twitter with Musk at the helm? He has mentioned a subscription-type model. Does that mean more data for advertisers?” 

Alex Watts, head of social at DDB Sydney, said: “For brands, there are really two big watch-outs from Elon buying Twitter: safety and community. Will the hard work the platform has done to be a brand safe space be committed to or left behind? And will brands be comfortable with the new editorial direction of the channel? From a community perspective, we have to wonder what changes will happen to Twitter’s user base under Musk’s ownership and if that audience will remain as valuable to marketers as they are right now.” 

People/talent have been key. So far… 

“I had also widely pointed out that with other, big social media network takeovers (eg, Tumblr, MySpace, etc.) that these failed to gain real momentum under different leadership. The people, the talent, are what make these platforms really successful at the end of the day, and we’ll soon see if the people who use Twitter will appreciate Musk’s vision.” 

Will Twitter's current user base stay? If not, how does that affect ad revenue?
Will Twitter's current user base stay? If not, how does that affect ad revenue?

Sway Group Chief Executive Danielle Wiley added: “A lot of users have been threatening to leave the platform, which could be very alarming to advertisers who have sponsored content initiatives scheduled,” whilst Jon Morgernstern, head of investment at Vayner Media, had a different angle: 

“The biggest question for us will be around potential Twitter platform policy shifts. Namely, if users who under Twitter’s current terms were deemed ‘in violation’ (and thus banned), will they be allowed back on the platform, eg, Donald Trump (this just in on that question)? Should this take place, there will be various brand safety/suitability concerns that we will need to closely monitor and adjust for on behalf of our clients as they arise.” 

A premium Twitter?

Wiley added: “Brands will need to meaningfully reconsider the utility, motivations, and relevance of their content to stand out in a more meritocratic landscape. There is the possibility of fairly major disruption to Twitter’s advertising business, including a future where its capabilities are somewhat diminished — particularly from a targeting and tracking/attribution standpoint. Twitter to become more premium?”

So you can see why it’s all been described as a major disruption to Twitter’s ad business. We watch with interest for the next stage.

Looking on the bright side 

Of course, it’s not all worry. There will be new opportunities. With the amount of PR out there, there is the notion in the industry that there will be some major positive changes to be rolled out. While Musk gets his own momentum, his reputation for innovation is certainly well earned and who knows what will occur. It all may bring some exciting opportunities to the platform that accelerates growth. I guess we will have to wait and see.

INMA Digital Platform Initiative’s take on it all 

Robert Whitehead, INMA’s lead for the Digital Platform Initiative, told one of my industry colleagues recently: “Twitter makes three cents per tweet, which is well below what was its survival threshold. It needs a deep rebuild if it is to sustainably support content overhaul objectives. So far Musk has flagged he’s not a fan of more advertising, which makes up 90% of its revenues. He has suggested Twitter’s consumer subscriptions should include a tool to switch it off altogether.

“While it’s too early, Musk may look at likely at a return to a ‘classic’ digital platform business model regarding advertising. For media companies, this could mean that they might need to pay to become a professional contributor to publish their verified messages and possibly links to news.” 

As I said earlier, we will see soon what happens next. But maybe the above and what senior figures are saying can be part of your education of the agency planners and buyers you deal with, who are, without doubt, looking for guidance. Maybe you can be that trusted resource for them?  

Watch this space for more Twitter news, quotes, and insights as they develop.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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