Torstar’s media buying process centres on helping the buyer buy

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, USA


Michael Beckerman, chief client officer at Torstar, says one of his most important roles is to make sure everyone on his sales team is wildly courageous and wildly transparent.

“Sometimes, getting a no is as good as a maybe,” he told INMA members during a Webinar. “I think from a commercial success perspective, we can’t be middle of the road. We need to be courageous, we need to be brave, and we can’t shy away from ‘no’s.”

The sales process is all about helping the buyer to buy, Beckerman said. Most sales processes and collateral are based around helping the seller sell, but companies need to focus more on the buyer’s needs.

“We start with the persona and understand who the buyer is. Understand them not just demographically, but attitudinally, and behaviourally, and technographically. Understand their wants and desires,” he advised.

“Once we understand who that persona is, then we can walk through the customer journey to make sure we’ve got the right content, at the right time, on the right channel, to build that relationship between your brand and your target audience.”

He added that enjoyment of one’s job and the energy brought to the process are vital: “Nothing great is ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”

The marketing tools Torstar uses to drive brands are the same principles it uses to drive sales, , Beckerman said. He outlined his team’s sales process to media buyers.

The media sales process is all about helping the buyer buy, not helping the seller sell.
The media sales process is all about helping the buyer buy, not helping the seller sell.

Make the buyer’s time count

The first thing to understand about buyers’ needs is how busy they are. Like almost every working person, prospects’ calendars are filled.

“You’ve got to make that meeting your client is having with you the best meeting of their day,” Beckerman said. “You are battling for their attention, you’re battling for their share of wallet. You’ve got to make that meeting the best part of their day. So go in with that attitude, project that to your prospects, and make sure your sales staff is projecting that.”

People want to work with people they enjoy, they’re inspired by, and they learn from. Make great use of the calendar time with prospects.

The discovery session

The sales process doesn’t start with the meeting begins, but well before that as research is done on the prospect.

“The single greatest quality a sales or marketing person can have is curiosity,” Beckerman said. “Be curious about your client’s business. They have chosen this as their vocation. They are proud (mostly) of the company they work for, they’re proud of the industry. Show, in a very authentic way, that same shared sense of passion they have for that industry.”

A sales and marketing partner is also a business partner, and the discovery session about a prospect or client is ongoing, 24/7, he said. A great way to begin the discovery process is learning about the prospect’s business and what challenges they are facing.

“That’s where we can come in,” Beckerman said. “If we show up with a bunch of tactics, trying to sell products from our toolbox, in absence of understanding their business strategy and objectives, we’re going to be booted out the door.”

Suspend disbelief about solutions

Beckerman advised the “blank sheet of paper” approach, with the strategic plan for each client created just for them in a customised and creative way. 

“I love blank pieces of paper, I love suspending disbelief in terms of what the solution is. Too often, we fill up a presentation with PowerPoint slides, we run out of time, and we don’t have the opportunity to answer any questions. Have the courage and creativity to embrace a black sheet of paper.”

Don’t put tactics in place of a strategy, but rather start with the strategy, consumer insights, the client persona, and customer journey — then, figure out what that customised solution is.

Ethical media supply chain

“I represent a Canadian owned and operated media company,” Beckerman said. “Eighty percent of the advertising dollars in the last decade have gone to digital. Eighty percent of those digital dollars have gone to Facebook and Google. That is brutal.”

It’s hard for news media organisations to compete, especially when Google and Facebook aren’t giving back to the media companies. But the term “ethical media supply chain” is becoming prevalent.

Beckerman has spent time talking with the chief marketing officers of large Canadian corporations, and said they are beginning to recognise they have a social responsibility to support Canadian owned and operated media.

Torstar’s response is to call out the importance of Canadian media for civil discourse and informed conversations.

“I’m loving this movement towards this ethical media supply chain and ensuring that, in our case, domestically owned media companies are getting our fair share of the media dollars,” he told INMA members. “We’re not showing up cap in hand, we’re earning it. We are proud of what it is that we do.”

Brand purpose

This is another area that Beckerman is hearing a lot about, particularly amongst younger media buyers.

“They care deeply about the values of the organisation they work for, they care deeply about the values of the organisations that they do business with.”

His team is finding great success in talking about Torstar’s brand purpose, including its charitable giving and transparency around financials: “It’s an opportunity, in terms of brand purpose — kind of the ‘why’ of an organisation.”

There are two things that spin the flywheel of revenue for most media companies — digital subscriptions and advertising.

“As we spin that flywheel, we can invest more dollars into the base of the flywheel, which is journalism, in particular investigative journalism. The stronger investigative journalism we have, the faster the flywheel goes. The more digital subscriptions it drives, therefore the more eyeballs we get, the more interesting it is to advertisers.”

From a Generation Z media buyer’s perspective, brand purpose is very important. They want to do business with organisations that have like-minded values.

Beckerman mentioned another aspect of the media buyer, which is that in general they do not know much about the brands they are buying advertising from, though they might not want to admit it. Beckerman takes the onus of that on Torstar, saying he might not have done a good enough job explaining enough about the brand to the buyer, walking them through it as part of the process.

This takes pressure off the media buyer to “know everything.” They realise they don’t need to be the expert, and that is what the sales person coming to them is for.

Torstar stresses the investment they, and their media partners, make in people and journalism.
Torstar stresses the investment they, and their media partners, make in people and journalism.

Investing in expertise

Torstar invests in agency road shows, where they talk more about how they’re investing back into their business and newsrooms. Whether that’s to elevate their data and client services or to bolster high-quality journalism, the company uses advertising revenue to add more thought leaders, innovators, and experts to its team.

“We’re asking for our clients’ hard-earned advertising dollars so we can invest back in investigative journalism,” Beckerman said. “We’ve made a commitment around climate, for instance, diversity and inclusion, affordable housing. We’re taking on the major issues that are important to Canadians. And in order for us to do that, we’ve got to get subscriptions, we’ve got to get advertising dollars, and we can invest in amazing people that can help us tell those stories.”

The Torstar sales team stresses to media buyers how their advertising budget is not just being invested in the eyeballs and potential customers they will attract, but also important journalism and the future of Canada.

“I’m talking as much about the business model and the brand purpose in a sales conversation as I am talking about metrics and audience size,” Beckerman said.

Innovation and expansion

Torstar is unabashed about its “parade of innovation.” An accelerated pace and a focus on relationships with customers and clients brings new ideas to life. The sales team also talks about this with media buyers, inviting them to share ideas and be part of the process.

“We go to 80% of the doors in the province of Ontario,” he said of Torstar’s newspapers. “So we set up a parcel delivery service so some of our advertisers that have e-commerce businesses can actually use us for their parcel delivery service.”

While media buyers probably have no role in delivery within their company, this service demonstrates to them the innovation and creativity happening at Torstar.

“Some are authentic and meaningful that are going to change the world and some are a little bit icing. But it gives our reps an opportunity and excuse to go in and talk to their clients.”

Digital and data

Torstar battles the perception that it is just six daily print newspapers and seventy community newspapers, Beckerman said. Although that is true, the company must constantly confront the argument that print is dying, while also sharing their vast digital resources.

“We talk a lot about that we’ve got 25 data scientists. And the same methodology and work that they do to drive subscriptions, that’s the same methodology and expertise that we’re doing in terms of serving up the right ads,” he said.

Sharing their data and audience reach is an important part of Torstar's media sales process.
Sharing their data and audience reach is an important part of Torstar's media sales process.

In this way, he and his team take a tired and perhaps negative perception of Torstar as a print legacy brand and flip that on its ear from a digital and data perspective that includes several aspects:

  • Audience stats, including high household income, age and race demographics, and 11.3 monthly unique visitors.

  • They reach tons of people across millions of touchpoints, all with different strengths.

  • The Torstar online and offline media and services give it some unique customer intelligence.

“It’s almost a challenge to the media planner,” Beckerman said. “You tell me who your audience is, media planner. We can unpack the Torstar ecosystem and we can find your audience. That’s our pitch. You challenge us with who your audience is, we will find that audience in our ecosystem, and we’ll put the right content in the right place at the right time on the right channel to build that relationship.”

Exceptional targeting and optimal performance

Torstar has been invested in building, enabling, and enriching its first-party data to provide contextual audience-based solutions, and control for targeting and brand safety — all cookie-free.

This enables the team to go very narrow and very deep in terms of specific audiences an advertiser is trying to reach and making sure that segment is large enough. They offer topic and look-alike modeling, relationship-based advertising, and augmented with trusted third-party data.

“The audience pools that we’re most relevant in are going to make a difference to our advertisers’ business,” he said. “We do the overview of the parade of different innovations, we see in terms of what the client is going to be interested in, and then our reps are able to go very narrow and deep.”

Great storytelling

Emotion, expertise, and analysis are the secrets to great storytelling. Torstar set up its own content agency, Blue Noise, which helps produce ads, sponsored and supported content, video, podcasts, infographics and more for their clients.

“So we’re providing not just the media solutions but the storytelling solutions for our clients,” Beckerman said. “We’re off to a great start with that.”

Emotion, expertise, and analysis are the secrets to great storytelling.
Emotion, expertise, and analysis are the secrets to great storytelling.


“Have the audacity and courage to try new things,” Beckerman said. 

He offered a number of tips to INMA members:

  • CMOs suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out).

  • Use your clients’ words back to them — focus on their needs and let them know they are being heard.

  • Align on values and strategy.

  • Use an assumptive sales approach. Make the conversation more about how much money they are going to invest, whether than rather they are going to.

  • Help your clients and agencies connect the dots in their organisations, be an ally and partner with them, and have fun.

  • Everyone has a marketing calendar — find out where you fit and value it.

  • Help them get their bonus or whatever is important to the media buyer.

  • Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.

  • Inspire adult conversations to get a level of transparency and partnership.

  • Capture hearts and minds — be bold, courageous, and have fun.

“It’s an amazing time of life, it’s an amazing industry we work in,” Beckerman said. “The roles that you all have are important, kind of the fabric not just of your companies but your countries in terms of informed and trustworthy news. I hope you wake up with a sense of pride in terms of what it is you do.”

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About Shelley Seale

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