Beached Sales

Pulling marketing and PR can leave salespeople pinned down.

by Fred Pfaff

In every time of doing more with less, it’s tempting to cut back on marketing and PR, thinking that more sellers in the field is the most efficient way to advance the business. Nothing happens without sales, goes the argument, so more feet on the street will identify and seize more opportunities. We’ll add the other fun stuff when we’re flush again, but for now we need to buckle down and pound the pavement. 

There’s a hole in that plan. Salespeople are not efficient marketing vehicles. In fact, the tighter budgets get, the more inefficient they are. The reasons have nothing to do with the role or importance of salespeople; they have everything to do with the nature of sales in the media business. 

First, buyers are overworked, underappreciated, and inundated with pitches. The impression they already have of a publication goes a long way toward setting their minds on any single opportunity; and 15 minutes with a sales rep isn’t likely to change that. 

Moreover, salespeople can only make one call at a time. That means without marketing and PR support, publishers have to market one sales call at a time. Making things tougher still, more time and effort goes into each call today. Sellers can’t schmooze the day through either; they have to plot credible connections for clients within their publications. 

Reps need content, too. Reminder emails don’t work if all you’re reminding a buyer of is that you want her business. You need to have something to forward the action. Nothing does that quite like substantive media coverage. At a time when anyone can post a blog, a nod from respected media (whether it’s a story about or by a publisher) signals legitimacy.  

Once upon a time, when there were dozens (not thousands) of magazines and the rotary dial was high tech, there were hours for bonding over steaks and martinis. Today, the people who do the most hands-on buying barely leave their desktops during the day. They’re young, smart and under the gun. They need some reason to take a meeting to begin with, and the credibility had better come from someone other than you.

RFP (aka, Really Fast Please!) fire drills leave no time to sell in person. They’re 24- to 72-hour scrambles to propose elegant solutions to client marketing briefs. You won’t get the RFP if you’re unknown, and there’s no way to build a reputation in an online response. For that, you need messaging and momentum over time. 

One publisher’s tale of two cities says it all. In the morning, he met with a client who knew his magazine well and read it cover to cover. They talked for an hour, mapped out a yearlong content program, and booked a dinner weeks out to extend the conversation. In the afternoon, the publisher flew to see a media buyer who didn’t know his magazine. He spent 15 minutes trying to get her up to speed, while she stole glances at her iPhone. They never got to specifics. His time was up before he could establish a basis for conversation. He got pinned down on the beach. 

The best air cover is establishing the magazine’s point of view at the industry level. What it stands for, why it matters, why its audience is attracted. That’s where marketing and PR people come in. The same reasons that make it tough to get a buyer’s attention let alone time—too much information, too little time—make it incumbent on media to market the ideas, people, tools and accomplishments that make them matter, and do it in more focused ways (more on this in part 2). Establish relevance and credibility before a meeting, and a rep can focus where “yes” lives—specific ways your audience can move the buyer’s brand. n

Fred Pfaff ( is president of Fred Pfaff Inc., a New York-based marketing and PR firm that’s made the point for such media as Reader’s Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post and American Business Media.