Winning the media buying process starts with loving your brand

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


In our recent Advertising Initiative Meet-Up, I was joined by Michael Beckerman, chief client officer at Torstar in Toronto, Canada. Mike is a veteran of the media buying world, having been a leading light on both sides of the fence, from within agency-land and publisher over many years.

I enjoyed chatting both privately and on the Meet-Up with Mike and picked up some invaluable insights to share with you. Much of what Mike said resonated with me, having been leading the charge at many media pitches in my time inside the UK ad sales landscape. Here is what I found particularly useful from Mike’s presentation, with my own thoughts overlaid. 

Be in love with your brand

Mike said that one of his most important roles is to make sure everyone on his sales team is “wildly courageous and wildly transparent.” So refreshing to hear this in an era where transparency is more and more important as we deal with our customer both in a B2B (and B2C capacity). He also said he takes “getting a no to be as good as a maybe.” I told him I’d love to be a fly on the wall in one of his pitches.

His passion came across strongly in the Meet-Up and cemented what I have always believed: that we have to be in love with our brand and what we offer. If we don’t, the client won’t either. 

Michael Beckerman, chief client officer at Torstar in Toronto, says the sales process is about helping the buyer buy.
Michael Beckerman, chief client officer at Torstar in Toronto, says the sales process is about helping the buyer buy.

Mike used the line, “The sales process is all about helping the buyer to buy.” How true. Most sales processes and collateral are based around helping the seller sell, but (media) companies need to focus more on the buyer’s needs. We need to understand what the client wants.

Live polls to INMA members: a shocking statistic? 

What Mike said was echoed in a live poll we conducted in the Meet-Up. Over 60% of Meet-Up attendees (INMA members) reckoned the market didn’t understand our ad offerings, and a similar number thought we didn’t understand our client offerings either. This lack of understanding was highlighted as the main factor why we don’t win certain amounts of business from agencies. 

We have a lot to do still. 

Education is key

When I worked at The Telegraph newspaper in London as mobile platforms director, I lead many pitches to agencies on behalf of the ad sales area. It was at a time when we were trying to push “mobile” as a premium channel and not just an add-on to their existing client media schedules. 

What I discovered very quickly was here was an environment where we had to present to:

  • Mainly young media planners and buyers, fresh from university, with no substantial media experience.
  • A bunch of people who had probably just had all the other media companies in the office, presenting in a similar fashion, with their own rate cards. We were all considered “just the next boring meeting they politely had to attend.” 

So, I decided to turn it on its head. 

Entertain, engage, inform

Firstly, understand what interests those young professionals. Maybe an entertaining pitch that would engage them? Maybe with a prize on the day (pre-promoted to them)? Maybe with an important leave behind on the (media) industry with they are to work with? I had INMA experience and, as all members have, a fantastic resource to draw on and build up the presentation well in advance. 

In my case, I was positioned by The Telegraph as the “mobile expert” (to be fair, I did have quite a bit of experience in this area; which areas can you elevate your people to?) who had been preaching the mobile gospel “before the iPhone was even invented.”

It was all positioned by The Telegraph (not me, as an individual of course) that I was coming to talk (in my “informed position”) about how they can better understand the rise of mobile, its place in the media landscape, and how they can better incorporate it into their media planning and buyer process. 

Not a mention of rate cards ... 

… which, of course, I subtly interweaved (somewhat) on the day but importantly left them with one, dressed as something else, at the end of my presentation.

I always presented humorously but with a message. I even sometimes included a little magic/illusion (something I am familiar with) at the end, with some audience participation, to entertain as well as inform. Again, with a message and to award a prize, which I have to say was always well received as a “bit of fun” and was definitely lacking from the normal publisher meetings. (Key word: normal! Never be normal! Aim to bring an element of surprise and/or delight!)

Take the time to understand their needs 

It was all very effective, and it was appreciated. I took the time to research some of the likely attendees in advance and the agency itself and what it was doing well in the market, what its challenges were, etc., to find out what they thought was important.

I even went for drinks with one or two planners, on my own time post work, to get to know them socially and better understand them. The knowledge gained, I used wisely in my presentations. 

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everything was positioned overall in such a way that it was going to be a big deal/event. So, with all this, it was common for the whole agency to show up for it and not just one or two poor souls who were nominated to attend and receive our latest ad package and rates.

Results matter 

The results spoke for themselves, too. Our mobile revenue (at the time when mobile was a new concept) went from 5% to 16% to 30%+ of our digital revenue in three years. 

Back to Torstar’s perspective, Mike Beckerman said: “We start with the persona and understand who the buyer is. Understand them not just demographically, but attitudinally, behaviourally, and techno-graphically. Understand their wants and desires.

“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. 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.

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

Quite! Great advice from the Canadian news media market. Advice we can all follow. 

Mike concluded his presentation at the Meet-Up with a phrase I heard Mark Field at Reach plc (Mirror newspapers, London, UK) also use in our recent Advertising Master Class:

“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. I hope you wake up with a sense of pride in terms of what it is you do.”

We should all be inspired.

Read more on the Torstar Meet-Up here

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About Mark Challinor

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