There seems to be an increasing level of snobbery or misinformation doing the rounds at the moment in media circles about what type of person is required to buy, sell or even understand digital advertising.
Media agencies are clamouring to find online and mobile expertise to keep client business and win pitches for new business as the interest in digital from advertisers continues apace.
The clamour for attracting digital talent has created an almost two-tier approach to recruiting and identifying the skills required to help media organisations grow their digital advertising revenues.
The most popular trend appears to be the search for the “born digital” generation, those who have grown up only knowing digital and really get how it all works. These are the people in most demand, being sought by agencies and media organisations to make a claim for the digital pot of gold.
The second route is the more traditional advertising sales executive who has the experience of knowing what their customers want and putting together solutions and ideas that work. They also have a strong belief in the brand and the quality of the product that they sell.
My main concern with the development of this two-tier approach to identifying the right talent to build an integrated sales team is that all the attention and focus is moving towards finding these digital natives and ignoring the talent and skills of the people already expert in creating and selling advertising solutions to advertisers.
There is no question that the move to a fully integrated sales team requires expertise and knowledge in the digital arena to create and develop the right products and propositions for customers. But this should not mean that the focus on bringing digital products into our advertising sales portfolio can only be achieved successfully by recruiting digital sales experts to lead the charge into the new world of integration.
Having worked in telecoms for almost 10 years — an industry that is constantly focused on keeping pace with technology and launching new complex products at an impressive rate — I understand the path to success is to establish an effective product development infrastructure and a pre/post-sales process to deal with the technical and operational aspects of how the products work and how proposals are put together to meet clients' needs.
The second key success factor is to invest time in training and developing sales talent to focus not on the technical complexity of the product, but rather on the benefits and relevance of the product to solve a problem or achieve an objective for the customer.
Good salespeople are hard to find; great sales people are even harder to find and hold onto. In approaching integration in a media organisation, my suggestion is to start inside your sales team first and then look at what expertise you need to support your current team to sell across print, Web and mobile. This is where you will undoubtedly need to find some expertise to work on the process and training aspects I mentioned earlier and the development of new products.
The difference in this approach is that you are recognising that your current sales team is the solution, they are essential to the success of an integrated sales structure.
I believe the requirement to engage and involve staff in creating solutions is one of the most important aspects of achieving long terms success for any organisation. Increasingly, companies seek to bring in external expertise to deal with issues without taking into account the current structures and expertise within the organisation. While this may generate short-term results, it will more often than not lead to conflict and disengagement.
Good salespeople are successful because they start with the customer and meeting their needs. They believe passionately in the brand and the products that they sell. This should not be forgotten when we approach integration and get caught up in the frenzy of jargon that surrounds the digital arena: behavioural targeting, contextual advertising, PPC, SEM, SEO, CPA, MPUs and more.
The basic principles of advertising still apply regardless of whether it's television, radio, print or digital. Advertisers want to sell things, they want to communicate and engage with new and existing customers, they want to build and develop brands to represent values relevant to their target market.
That the digital advertising environment is more fragmented, complex and notionally more measurable is not in question. However, it all still begins with the same premise: audience. For decades our salespeople have been selling the virtues of our audience, the importance of context and, increasingly, the effectiveness of advertising in print and coming up with creative solutions.
In summary, if you are approaching integration as a long-term strategy it is imperative to focus on the talent and skills of your existing team and invest in training and developing their skills.
At The Irish Times we have made significant progress through the leadership and engagement of our advertising sales team in embracing digital as an integral part of what we offer. We are having very different conversations with agencies and advertisers and have a significant revenue target against it this year. This is only possible because we have great salespeople who are excellent at what they do and want to continue to learn and develop and be the best.
By bringing the right level of digital expertise into the advertising team and investing in training and development of our salespeople, we are seeing positive results from our customers.