What Local Publishers Can Learn from Sales Reps

For local publishers who rely on direct sales, in-house salespeople do much more than just sell ads. In many cases, sales reps become the faces of the publications they represent. Sales teams interact with community businesses owners on a much more frequent basis than editorial staffers working inside the office, and the insights they collect through these interactions can be a valuable asset for publishers.

Sales reps are an untapped resource for publishers searching for new business strategies and opportunities for growth.

The readers of a hyperlocal publication might remember the names of the reporters whose bylines they see on their screens each morning, but business owners—who often play a prominent role in smaller communities—recognize the voices of the sales reps they do business with. In this way, salespeople become brand ambassadors for publishers.

Recruiting and hiring a professional sales force can be a challenge for local publishers. Qualified salespeople are a hot commodity, and small digital publishers have difficulty competing with larger firms when it comes to compensation. However, small publishers also have a certain level of flexibility that larger corporate organizations do not, and that workplace flexibility is attractive to many sales professionals.

Most salespeople come to a publisher with their own local connections, and they spend time cultivating those relationships on a daily or weekly basis. That may involve frequent phone calls to check in, the occasional in-person meeting over coffee, or correspondence over email when business owners have questions about how their campaigns are performing.

Through these interactions, sales reps are constantly learning about what the people in their communities want to see—whether that’s more sports coverage, additional opportunities for reader submissions, or more frequent website updates.

To get sales reps to share the knowledge they’ve gained through these interactions, publishers and editors just need to ask.

Business owners who advertise with a publication can turn into valuable resources for story ideas and background information.

Sales reps hear all kinds of local gossip from their clients. Business owners love to spill the beans on which companies are coming to town, which are leaving, and which are struggling due to any number of challenges. The tips that sales reps pass along can be checked up on and verified through public records databases and interviews with the parties involved. This approach often leads to scoops that a site’s editors would have never found on their own.

Sales reps are also known to field complaints from advertisers who aren’t happy with the coverage in a publication. While there should be a barrier between the editorial and sales departments in certain ways, and complaints from advertisers should not dictate a publisher’s editorial content, more general feedback from advertisers can still be useful and relevant.

As a best practice, sales reps should make a habit of asking advertisers if there are any topics they’d like to see covered more frequently, or whether there are any holes in the publisher’s coverage. While the practice of covering an advertiser’s business can be controversial, there’s no reason not to ask advertisers for tips or feedback. Doing so can lead to new editorial opportunities, as well as better relationships between publishers, sales teams, and advertisers.

Another thing that publishers can learn from their sales reps is how their advertising programs could be improved. Are advertisers asking for any packages that the publisher isn’t currently selling? Which premium packages are most popular? What is the most common reason why existing advertisers decide not to renew? Any good sales rep should already know the answers to these questions, but most are hesitant to share that information with publishers without being asked.

Running a successful hyperlocal publication is a team effort, requiring everyone to pitch in. Rather than keeping information in silos, publishers should actively search for opportunities to bring their teams together. Breaking down those barriers can lead to innovative ideas and continued success in the hyper-competitive digital publishing market.