6 Ways To Increase Ad Sales Right Now

There are lots of things you can do to try to increase ad sales. But you should do these six things now for the biggest gains.

by Bob McInnis


If you need to drive up advertising revenue in your ad department, here are the big things you should do first if you haven't done them already. They're based on my experience over the years helping over 1,000 newspapers and other local publications increase sales quickly. I've found these things, in particular, make a quick and substantial impact on the success of each sale as well as the size of the contracts your ad reps ultimately sell. They're taken from my award-winning ad sales and management system.


1. Go after the highest-potential advertisers first

There are some businesses that can and need to spend dramatically more money than others on advertising, even when they claim (or really believe) they don’t. For a quick shot of revenue, encourage your ad reps to go after those prospects first.


Not long ago, part of my ad sales training services included actual on-site sales calls on behalf of my client newspaper (I've since replaced that part with a huge self-service site full of presentations and 100+ videos on how to sell each one). Since part of my compensation was based on the revenue I'd bring in, I’d send ahead a "hit list" of 50 categories of prospects on which I only wanted to focus. They were the ones I found were the easiest to sell and to sell big. Knowing who they were enabled me to close, in just a few days, $300,000 worth of sales because I knew exactly where the money was before setting foot in the market.


They're actually pretty easy to identify and here's how. Look for businesses who have a high average sale. When you think about it, even with a bad response, they’d probably still be making money from your publication, so it's not a huge risk for them if you can make a case they'll get any response.


But that’s not the reason they need to spend more money. They need to because, for an expensive item, typically there are much fewer people in the market at any given time compared to people buying less expensive items. For example, think how often you’re in the market for a car, jewelry, or a new driveway. All expensive things you buy infrequently.


With a smaller universe of people each week who is about to buy these more expensive kinds of products and services, these businesses need to go all in with a large ad that all those few people see. That's because of the natural drop off that occurs between the amount of people who actually see the ad and those who ultimately buy. They can’t afford anyone in the market about to buy their products missing their smaller ad, or they might run out of people before anyone even comes into the store or buys.


So, they both need to run big and they can. The perfect combination. So who fits into this category? Doctors, lawyers, real estate agents, flooring dealers, furniture dealers, roofers, hearing aid specialists, garage door installers, HVAC professionals, pool builders, home security specialists, and pest control companies to name just a few.


Try not to get caught in the trap of only looking at who’s running elsewhere, who’s spending the most in other places, or whose business just looks big. Often the most money can come from businesses not running at all or a seemingly small business.


2. Resist countering the upfront stalls and objections you get, instead hear and respond to what they're really saying

When a prospect presents an objection early on in the sales process, it seems only logical that the ad rep should say or show something to overcome the objection. Most likely, your ad reps have answers to the most common objections at the ready. But no matter how solid the ad rep's argument is, a back-and-forth debate at the beginning of the call typically does more harm than good. There's a much more effective way for ad reps to get past these and come out way ahead.


Your ad reps should interpret any objection, especially upfront stalls and objections, as the prospect's theory as to why they don't believe they're going to get a response based on their past experience. That's closer to what's going on in their mind.


Ad reps would be much better served if they took all objections, including “I don’t have time for you/I don’t have any money for you/print is dead/you don’t have enough circulation/your rates are too high” and tack onto the end of the sentence “because I don’t believe you’ll get me a response”. If you think about it, if you walked in with a bag of money and said “run with me and I’ll give you this bag of money”, the objections would disappear. All objections are ultimately response objections. Treat them like that.


So what do you say instead? Agree with them and talk about response. This video on dealing with upfront stalls and objections from my course explains how.


3. Don’t talk about price before you prove response

A huge mistake I see ad reps make all the time and a real sales killer is when an ad rep quotes rates and talks about costs too early, often at the request of the prospective advertiser. They should wait. There’s only one time for ad reps to talk about price and it’s after they make a solid case that the two halves of the media equation--the media and the ad that will run in the media--will make them a whole lot more money than what the advertiser will need to spend. Otherwise, whatever the ad rep quotes them will appear to be an expense and likely one the business won't think it can afford.


So, make sure your ad reps first build a case for response. For example, in my selling system, these are the steps I teach ad reps to follow before any rates or prices are discussed:

  • Eliminate the upfront stalls and objections so the prospect stops thinking about getting rid of you and starts listening.
  • Teach the prospect a process to create an ad that gets a response the first time and consistently afterwards.
  • Ask the right questions, securing information that'll enable you to determine if your publication is the right fit as well as information that'll enable you to create an effective ad (that you can hand off to your designers to look better).
  • Create a recommendation including why your publication is perfect for the business as well as an explanation why the ad will work.
  • Present the media, the ad, and prove they’ll work.


Once you "show them the money", the prospect will see it's a safe investment, a revenue-producer and not an expense, and the discussions about rate will be significantly easier.


If you don’t make a strong case for response up front before talking rates, your closing ratio will take an enormous hit. Don't fall into that trap.


4. Focus on conducting a "perfect sales call" each day not just lots of them

Sure, your ad reps need to make a certain volume of calls (some newspapers want their ad reps to shoot for 10 per day), but I’ve found focusing mainly on the quality of calls is more productive and, frankly, easier for a manager to keep up with. I used to require my more experienced ad reps with busy territories to “shoehorn” in at least one solid, successful informational sales call (that follows my approach) per week and one per day for new ad reps or those with little sales volume in their territories. I know that doesn't sound like much but it adds up fast.


What qualifies as a solid sales call? A good indicator would be that afterwards, the ad rep should be able to return to the office with enough information to be able to create a recommendation about how that prospect will get a response. This would include both a media recommendation and a solid ad strategy (as compared to simply a good-looking spec ad, which is the job of the designer).


If the ad rep does their homework, the odds are much higher that a good strategy will come together, they’ll make a convincing final presentation, and they’ll close the sale. Especially if you can help them with the latter steps.


Call reports can be useful, but sometimes it encourages busywork and even worse, requires a significant time commitment from management to read and spot-check them to verify, which managers rarely have the time for. Instead, look at the quality of the calls your ad reps are making, the homework they're doing, and help them with the next steps.


5. Walk right in

Before meeting with a prospect, it might seem easier and more polite to call ahead for an appointment. But it's so much easier for a prospect to say no when they’re simply talking to a voice on the other end of the phone or reading an email. With 55% of communication being non-verbal and another 23% being based on voice tone, your ad reps need to show up in person.


A good rule of thumb is if they don’t sit behind a desk, then it’s OK to walk right in to a prospect’s place of business unannounced. The prospects probably won’t like it at first but most will understand this is just how things are done. The trick is understanding the reason they don't want to talk in the first place and doing and saying the right things in the first few seconds of the sales call.


Given the lack of good training a typical ad rep gets, it’s safe to assume those that walked into their store previously did little more than push media without offering any real solutions to delivering them an actual response.


If your ad reps are able to offer better solutions--and prove they’ll work before they run--they’ll stand out in contrast. It's just much easier to do that in person, where prospects will tolerate an ad rep’s presence a little longer, giving them time to eliminate the inevitable upfront stalls and objections and position themselves them as partners able to help their business grow instead of the vendors most prospects assume them to be.


6. Use marketing automation

You have a huge advantage that you can use to drive sales that you're likely not using. You have an audience.


While most organizations who want to drive business struggle to build an audience, you already have one that most businesses probably envy. There's a much more effective way to using that audience to drive ad sales other than simply sending out emails, running ads in your print and digital publications, and promoting your advertising on social media.


Put in place a marketing automation system. If you're not familiar with marketing automation, it's is like having an additional salesperson working for you. It can automatically pinpoint where businesses are in their buying process (if anywhere), nurture them along until they're ready to buy, and let you know when it's time to contact them. I've installed many of them and they work like magic.


7. Give your ad reps the tools to succeed

OK, here's a seventh. Train your ad reps and give them the tools they need or you're setting them up for failure. Even the most skeptical ones will tell you what a difference the right training and tools make. There's a good reason selling advertising is so much harder and more discouraging than just about any other kind of sales: while the only thing prospective advertisers want out of the deal is a response, but they (and your ad reps) are highly skeptical that will every happen. The traditional way of selling advertising doesn't solve that without making a number of changes that I explain here. My ad sales system, for one, has multiple iterations (some online and some on-site), and no doubt there's one that fits into your budget. Contact me and I could give you some ideas.



Sure, there was a time when an advertiser believed they had to run somewhere and the challenge was trying to prevent them from commoditizing their media buy and just going with the cheapest one. These days, with social media being free and pay-per-click guaranteeing results, there’s no need to run anywhere.


So you've got to go where the money is, focus on one successful sales call per day, answer the actual objection, not the one they're saying, don't talk rates until you show how you can make them money, don't rely on phone calls and email to get appointments, use marketing automation to leverage your built-in audience to drive sales, and certainly, make sure your ad reps are given the right tools so they can succeed.


About Bob

I've trained more than 1,000 newspapers over the years including the biggest publications in the world as well as some of the smallest. I'm the former ad director of a group of weeklies in Boston and Buffalo, major accounts supervisor and training director for Newsday, a then-top-10 US daily, and have been training other newspapers on my ad sales system for over 20 years.


The Local Media Association (formerly Suburban Newspapers of America) named my program "the best idea of all time". I've spoken at virtually every local, regional, national, and international newspaper association. I'm a graduate of Dartmouth College. You can contact me here.



ABOUT THIS SITE  |  This site is the home of Bob McInnis' Response Oriented Selling newspaper ad sales training program. It also shares a number of insights as well as offers a basic new hires program for brand new ad reps just looking to stabilize their territory.


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