Beached Sales II (Getting off the Beach)

Salespeople need all the air cover they can get today. Establishing the magazine’s point of view at the industry level provides the most effective cover

by Fred Pfaff

(Click here to read Part 1 of this article)

Two months ago, I wrote: “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. 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.” 

Marketing a point of view isn’t PR as usual. It requires a more thoughtful approach that promotes thinking rather than news bytes. There’s a huge premium on content the industry values rather than hustle and hype. You need a point, and it has to be rooted in an idea with significance beyond your brand. 

That’s easy to say, hard to do, and worth everything if you do it right. First, it requires a variety of perspectives from inside and outside the company to help establish and articulate exactly what it is you stand for. That platform is essential to creating ideas that resound and build a reputation. 

The ideas. Your ideas should aim for the intersection of why you are and what the industry needs. It’s not your sales proposition; it’s the idea that makes your company matter at the industry level. It’s the idea that lets people point to your publication as representative of a significant insight or shift. The best ideas often involve a new model, method or metric for doing business. In short, it’s an idea with broad significance that (a) others can get behind and that (b) creates a legitimate reason to keep your company on the industry radar. 

The people. Let the market hear your people think. Pick three people from your masthead to be the voices of the point in public. Create a calendar of viewpoints authentic to each on relevant topics, for publishing and for conversation, and you’ll prep voices on all platforms from media to social networks and good old-fashioned face to face.

The tools. Don’t talk about it; demonstrate what you can do with it. The instinct is to announce a new capability and then leave it to sales. But if it’s a better lens on data or a social sharing mechanism, for examples, you’ll get a lot further by showing the tool in action. For the data, publish findings and consider creating a column where you can do it continually. Publish pieces on what the findings mean from an industry standpoint. In other words, share your intelligence. Ratchet it up to the market level, so you’re focusing on the meaning for all. Remember, your customers don’t care if you have a new tool; they care about what it makes possible for them.

The accomplishments. With your accomplishments, you need to think before and after, not just the latest run. The instinct of every publisher is to fire up the press release furnace when there’s a good month—“We set a record for revenues in July!”—but the news isn’t illustrating anything of importance beyond the title. It won’t make it past the common sense filter of journalists any more than buyers. You have to think in terms of the wider story that your spurt supports. How are you a barometer? What does it reveal about what advertisers and subscribers value, or about what makes a publishing enterprise work now?

This is not the stuff of press releases and media blitzes. You have to pick your spots in media and work the many other channels now available (e.g., social media). When the point is something you are, rather than something you say, the opportunities to make it amplify.

When you approach the market this way, everything has the potential to true up. You expand the reasons for getting exposure, and each appearance reinforces your proposition. Buyers and journalists know where to slot you, how to think about you. And the more your people feel they’re in a company that matters, the more they’ll charge ahead for it. 

Here’s an example. Back in 1999, Reader’s Digest had established a reputation for selling creative advertising programs at the client level. But it was getting pinned down day to day because the general-interest title didn’t spike on optimizers except for old age, and planners infatuated with dotcoms weren’t going to push for the magazine to be included in a buy. But website stickiness (retaining audience) was a priority. A look through MRI showed that Digest readers spent more time with the magazine than any other print audience. But the economics of media agencies prevented the people who knew how to sift through the research from actually doing media plans. So the Digest point became involvement—that “time spent” or attention devoted to a publication mattered as much as its audience reach. 

Involvement became the mantra, repeated in everything the Digest did on the ad sales front. When we created an Involvement Index to enable agencies to actually buy on involvement (mixing the key qualities in a formula that MRI could customize for each agency), other publishers facing similar problems joined a coalition. What the Index was, how it worked, what it showed, and why it mattered became continual media stories and presentations fueled by a coalition. The Digest rose in spotlight and stature within the planning community in a way that news could not accomplish. 

When you’re advancing a new way of thinking in the business, you attract the attention of the strategists who set budgets, not just the executors who allocate them. That connection can yield a higher-level discussion that puts the magazine on more strategic footing. It certainly makes the point that the magazine matters.

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.