The future of media ad sales involves happy team members

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Greetings from London, England.

I wanted to highlight two specific subjects today that cropped up at my recent Advertising Initiative Master Class for INMA.

That is, the subjects of being a “smart” publisher and what that means with regards to advertising sales teams, and the area of sustainability in the advertising ecosystem. The latter, I believe, is not even on the radar of many media houses, but it is one gaining prominence in both media and advertising agencies. It may well affect how you conduct your ad sales operations in future.

But first ...

The future of ad sales teams

During the recent master class, I was thrilled to have present and to interview Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group in the United States.

He gave some interesting insights from his company’s research findings. News publishers that are outperforming others find changing the focus of the ad sales teams helps generate revenue — while reducing costs.

Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group, spoke during a recent INMA Advertising Initiative Master Class.
Quang Do, principal of The Alexander Group, spoke during a recent INMA Advertising Initiative Master Class.

Quang argued that account managers are becoming far more important than ever as advertisers look for more first-party data to support their return on investment and need those account executives to proactively share insights, findings, etc., with said advertisers whilst developing closer relationships.

Then, internally, keeping those executives who are in those roles “happy” and supported will be key to having a strong future as far as the media house is concerned.

Economic factors such as inflation, reduced growth, and the war in Ukraine all have had an effect on the ad sales environment, as do trends in what consumers expect from us.

The Alexander Group surveyed people in high-performing media companies to learn how they actually do the above. Here is some of what they found.

Efficiency-driving profitability

Post-COVID, the surveyed companies are managing to increase revenue and expect this trend to continue. Not only that, they’re doing so with less sales expense (base salaries, commissions, travel, and other expenses) and most plan to focus on existing products — a surprise perhaps, as many would think building new products would be the way to go.

But no. Exploit what you can from your existing products — maybe via a relaunch, a repackaging exercise, more highlighting of the value they can bring.

Companies that realise this are leaning more on the account manager role, which has helped give advertisers what they really want — a high return on investment.

It was interesting to hear that high performing publishers are also spending relatively less time on presale negotiations and more on the post-sale phase, i.e. publishers that are still focussing on the initial sale are probably missing opportunities down the chain.

Productivity: How to best deploy the team

The Alexander Group’s research shows most publishers assign their accounts based on researching the market and finding opportunities in that market, segmenting those based on size and verticals, and then assigning within those segments.

Quang Do shared research on precision targeting and how it relates to productivity.
Quang Do shared research on precision targeting and how it relates to productivity.

The next step is to precision target.

The number of people within an organisation that have an influence on advertising buys varies. Larger advertisers may have many sections of buyers with independent marketing budgets at the media level or country level. And ad sales teams need to have the right skilled people find those additional budgets.

Quang said: “You need to be able to look your sales team in the eye and know that if I give you a goal, it’s attainable.”

Determine the account archetype

Not all accounts are the same, and there are a number of archetypes depending on the segments you focus on. We need to think about how advertisers establish their ad strategies and at what level. Who has the potential to consistently buy our media?

Then, it’s a three point action plan:

  1. Calculate the total addressable market and share of the wallet. How much is there to spend on media?
  2. Identify points of contact. Who controls the budget? Who has influence? Who sets the budget and who actually makes the purchasing decision?
  3. Launch and iterate. This is not a “set it and forget it” kind of thing,” Quang said. “People do the buying, so it’s also important to recognise that people change jobs and the model has to be looked at continuously.”

Sound advice?

Beyond, what then becomes important is how we keep sales people happy. In essence, it’s all about salary and “more.”

Compensation: Is that enough on its own?

Salaries for account managers have increased about 20% this year, according to The Alexander Group’s research. The turnover rate has also increased for post-sales roles because the value of the role has increased.

Compensation rules have changed post-COVID.
Compensation rules have changed post-COVID.

It makes total sense bearing in mind the COVID factor. What was missing during the pandemic was being able to sit down face to face with advertisers and liaise, discuss, advise on their campaigns. There is a huge value in that, which has been sorely missed. The consultative sell is really important.

Another change seen by Quang is that executives are now saying they want their sales teams to be “happy” (previously they would be more likely to say they wanted their teams to be more productive). But this again makes sense considering publishers are investing a lot in the sales roles now, so they have a lot at stake in retaining people.

A high number of sales people who looked for new jobs during the pandemic, it seems, looked outside of their own company. So media companies will need to rethink career management, which is where the “more” comes in. Incentives, job roles, and team structures will all be on the table.

Salary is still massively important, of course, but sales people also tend to be ROI-based and want to feel like their efforts are worth it.

The point was also made that compensation should be team-based.

Changes in company career management are already having an impact. Many publishers are looking at who is eligible to participate in compensation incentives and what the different job roles involve. Many are becoming more team-based, paying when whole team succeeds.

A healthy work-life balance can also go a long way, with attractive family leave policies and hybrid work policies creating a favourable environment for employees.

“We have to understand that people want more,” Quang said.

Sustainability in advertising

Sustainability. What it it? What do we think of it? Why is gaining momentum in the ad industry, and why do we need to take it seriously?

If we understood the “mood of the nation” more and what advertisers and the market are focussing on themselves — and what they are gravitating towards — we can help deliver better products with better ethics behind our approach. And even achieve better results in terms of performance and revenue.

Talk of sustainability is growing at many companies, bleeding over into their advertising strategies.
Talk of sustainability is growing at many companies, bleeding over into their advertising strategies.

It’s something a lot of companies are talking about, but it’s the understanding and taking action that’s the more difficult part.

In some industries, reducing the carbon emissions of business is very straightforward and easy to understand. But in the media industry, it’s not quite as obvious. It is there, however. It’s a real thing. And we must face it.

Russell Foxley also spoke at my INMA master class on The Future of Advertising Sales Teams. Russell is data innovation specialist for The Guardian here in the UK.

Understand your carbon usage

Foxley urged media companies to start now when it comes to recognising and understanding their carbon usage and using their position to affect big change.

“In the advertising industry, we’re experts at changing behaviour,” he said. “We can help make consumers make better choices, more environmentally friendly choices, and live up to those values and try to change things within the industry.”

The Guardian is, I would say, at the forefront of sustainability initiatives. They were the first media company in the world to become “B Corp” certified. They no longer use plastic wrapping for their supplements. Instead, they use fully recyclable paper. And they have taken a stand to allow no ads from gas and oil companies. Its a huge hole in their ad revenues since 2020, but they are being noticed for their brave stance. And they are now attracting not just attention but advertisers who are in synch with this approach/thinking. 

Emergency — not just a warning

“One of the easier things that we did was actually change the language we’re using in our journalism, too,” Russell said. “We no longer use phrases such as global warming. It’s now ‘climate emergency,’ ‘climate crisis’ because we think it’s more reflective of the actual situation we’re in.

Of course, the media industry is a large user of carbon. While companies may think being more digitally focussed has helped make them less wasteful of carbon emissions, Foxley has another angle to consider.

Amazing statistic

“One million video impressions is roughly the equivalent of taking a return flight from London to Boston,” he said. “If we know we’re having an impact, that means we can change it.”

Measuring emissions in the UK has three scopes, set up to give companies an idea of what they are accountable for compared to what other businesses are accountable for.

  • Scope 1: Direct energy consumption: (3% of emissions) i.e. heating and cooling offices, emissions from facilities, lighting the building, etc.
  • Scope 2: Indirect energy consumption: (2% of emissions) i.e. delivery vans to deliver newspapers, deliveries of items coming in to business.
  • Scope 3: Supply chain: ( 95% of emissions) i.e. all indirect emissions associated with and occur in value chain.

The third scope casts the broadest net and is the trickiest one to monitor. If the supply side is trying and the buying side is too, companies can double down on emissions reduction instead of passing the blame to another part of the business.

Advertisers are becoming conscious

Russell sees a future very soon where responsibility will be on media companies to reduce carbon emissions in the supply chain. WPP and GroupM are already announcing plans to go net zero across direct operations by 2025 and decrease Scope 3 emissions by 50%.

He sees this trickling down to other media companies from there.

The programmatic issue in all this

One of the largest offenders of carbon usage is programmatic advertising. Russell explained that when computers are trying to outbid each other, they use a lot of electricity to solve calculations. If companies simplify the supply chain, this will reduce emissions.

“Not all those bids are going to win so a lot of them are effectively wasted. And the energy processing them is consumed, but there’s no end product for the sake of it.” He made the point that with programmatic, there might be, say, 50 creatives to and fro-ing across the Internet at anyone one time for a single bid process. That’s a lot of wasted effort and emission.

Russell asks media companies to ask themselves, “Can you reduce working with individual partners to simplify the supply chain?”

Start now?

If you decide to start, start now, he said. It may seem overwhelming, but companies need to start focusing on truly reducing carbon use and not just on offsetting it.

“We’re not going to get this right the first time around as an industry,” Russel said, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't try.”

One can only applaud what The Guardian are doing here. And one feels that this could well be a vision of what the future of advertising is all about.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to INMA’s Brie Logsdon and her editorial team for their excellent reporting on the advertising sales  master class, part of which has been the referred to in this newsletter. 

Further reading

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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