As far back as 2018, NTM noticed revenue from subscriptions was increasing while advertising revenue was declining. That led to the creation of NTM Media, a sales company designed to turn around the alarming trend and help NTM reach its goal of becoming the best advertising sales organisation in Sweden.
NTM owns media houses throughout Sweden, with operations including newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, digital media, and more.
During Wednesday’s Webinar, Becoming the best ad sales team: Sweden’s NTM shares their strategy, NTM’s Annie Lidesjo, head of operations and people, shared the strategy behind creating the new company and explained how NTM deployed it company-wide.
As was the case for news media companies around the world, the decline in advertising revenue worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We had a bigger loss in revenue and saw that we needed to do something about it,” Lidesjo explained. “If we continued like this … we were not going to be in business anymore.”
At the same time, the company identified a need to better develop its digital offerings to become less dependent on its print product.
NTM began looking at what it could do to reverse the ad sales decline and make the curve go up, Lidesjo said. About a year ago, it began looking at its sales structure to see where it could improve and noticed several areas that needed to be addressed.
Among the weaknesses it identified were:
- A “messy” sales structure, with different locations using different approaches.
- A lack of definition of what roles the central and local teams filled.
- Lack of structure throughout the customer journey, which led to poor results.
- Inadequate technology for sustaining a digital advertising business.
- An overall gap in skills in the digital advertising business.
These factors all contributed to a lack of confidence in NTM’s products and also had taken the company away from its core mission, which is to provide quality, free, independent journalism. It had begun focusing too heavily on external products, such as Google and Facebook, instead of building on its own strengths.
At the same time it identified its own shortcomings, NTM looked at what was happening externally. Digitisation was accelerating and, along with it, the requirements for automation were increasing. The market had placed a greater emphasis on good customer experiences, meaning companies need to adapt to that demand, and Lidesjo said it also needed to look at brand safety and focus more on its news products.
Once it looked at both internal and external factors, she said, “We saw we could change the trend and make the curve go up. This is the goal we started with.”
In January, it launched NTM Media, putting all its advertising sales under one company.
“We started to build a new culture with a new focus,” she said. “We created a more competitive organisation to become the best advertising sales company in Sweden.”
The NTM roadmap to success
Building a new culture meant educating employees and creating a clear strategy so each person understood their role and what they needed to do. In addition to the people aspect, Lidesjo said NTM put a strong focus on the technical aspect of the needed changes: “We changed all our systems,” she said.
That included implementing new processes for booking ads, using a new ad server, and more. All the changes went live at the same time — just two weeks after NTM Media was officially put in place.
“It was a new start for the company to start a new route for these [next] three years,” she said. “And to do it together as one new culture, one new company, with one clear goal for everyone on what to achieve.”
That unified goal of improving advertising sales depends heavily on the new processes and systems NTM has put in place. One of the biggest lessons it has learned, she said, is the importance of time to market.
“We need to be fast, we need to be quick, we need to focus a lot on the product development to make it easy for the customers to understand the product and for customers to buy.”
Six months in, she said NTM is already seeing areas where it needs to make more changes.
“We need to streamline even more,” she said. “It’s hard to have too many ways of doing things when it comes to system and structure. So we need to focus on what we can streamline to make it easier.”
It also needs to simplify and find a way to make everything it does scalable. Next, she said, they will look at changing the system to leverage the ability to streamline, standardise and take in more revenue for the print side.
Lidesjo had encouraging words for publishers who choose to make similar changes. “If you have done this correctly, believe in the numbers. Don’t stop in the middle; keep going.”
She said the first month after the changes went into effect wasn’t good, but “since then the curve has gone in the right way. If we can do even more smart things … then we can reach our goal of becoming the best media house in Sweden by 2024.”
Changing the business to be less dependent on print is a way to increase revenue, which allows it to reinvest in its core mission: “We want to be the best sales organisation so we can continue with this important independent journalism that we have in Sweden.”
Lidesjo said it has also helped NTM realise the importance of diversification.
“It’s important for us to build more than one business area that we can keep growing, instead of just one [area]. For example, subscriptions, because if something goes away or if the print business goes down faster than we [expected], then we need to have something else to build on.
“So the focus for NTM is to find and grow business areas that are close to our core but can help us accelerate and put more focus on the digital part of the business.”
Changing the structure
The new structure of the organisation included putting its content studio in both northern and southern Sweden, allowing it to have a presence throughout the entire country, and the sales department has been divided into different areas.
“We have also done a lot of work to look into what customers we have and what we can focus more on,” she said. “It’s possible for sales reps to sell advertising for all titles from now on, not just ones that are in their immediate media house. We hope this will help us reach this goal.”
Despite all the changes it has made already, Lidesjo said NTM isn’t finished: “We change all the time. This is the second change we’ve made since we started in January of this year, and I think we will change again in six months. We are always trying to do things more effective, better, streamlined, more focused on the customer, more focused on putting in the right revenue for us, and more focused on giving customers the right [value] on the marketing they buy from us.”