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November 20, 2018

Marketing medicine: Time for change In Media Sales

If you are a CEO, a marketing director, a brand manager or a sales manager you probably suffer from a periodic condition. It comes upon you in the middle of a busy working day. It causes irritation and is very hard to treat, let alone eradicate

The symptoms are usually presented in the form of a series of phone calls from a newspaper media rep you do not know, who appears more familiar that he should. Trying to sell you something you don't want, for no justified reason. These symptoms often produce anxiety, as the media rep attempts to persuade you that your brand will be eclipsed by all its competitors if you do not agree to his proposal.

If you eventually succumb to his thinly illustrated promises and thickly spread threats you will have agreed to participate in an Industry supplement. Shortly afterwards your business partners and suppliers will start to hate you as the same media rep coerces them into taking small, pointless blackmail ads in the supplement. The sort of thing that says "Mbuzi Technology is proud to support The Bank of Bogota" where the unwritten subtext is "and is heartily sick of being put upon in this way".

The newspaper supplement is an anachronism. It is a way of trying to drum up space sales practiced by newspaper media reps who have never taken the time to think about anything new. Of course they have targets to make, and of course they are operating in a creatively limiting environment - newspapers - what a very learned PR friend of mine calls 'Legacy Media'. Although I have my doubts about the value of the legacy they will leave when the last scrap of newsprint finally blows away.

So the idea of an industry supplement is usually born on a slow Friday, in an exchange between two reps along the following lines.

Rep One: "Shoes. They seem to be popular these days." Rep Two: "Great idea, let’s call anyone who has feet."

Newspaper editorial teams loathe having to write industry supplements. So accordingly they use the lowest possible level of talent on the job. Perhaps pulling a passing tea lady into the reluctant cabal that is the morning news meeting.

The picture desk is then prevailed upon to find suitable images from the stack of puff pics sent in by PR agencies. These are normally the kind of un-caption-able images that end up with the caption:

 "Hello! Minister greets Harris Christopher, MD The Inside Brand, at his premises."

 A sub-editor is distracted from main interest - writing an unprintable first novel. The designer with the thickest spectacles and shallowest understanding of typeface is enlisted to design the layout. And, hey presto, we’re good to go.

Now media reps have many shortcomings, some of which may be congenital. But today I’d like to focus on a few behavioural weaknesses in the hope that mature consideration and a bit of innovative thinking on the part of newspaper sales directors might produce some relief for the rest of us. Here are some preparations an ambitious media rep might make before he picks up the phone to a business.


  • Understand who reads the newspaper. Not just a gross figure, thinly supported by a notional print run, or ABC circulation figures (does ABC really still exist? I think we should be told). But instead a good understanding of the various types of person who regularly read the title. Young, old. Men or women. Urban or rural. Business or professional. County or national. Affluent or broke.
  • Before approaching any business, consider whom that business wants to influence. This is called a target audience. Guess what? If your newspaper readership data shows a link to their target audience you have the basis for a conversation.
  • Offer an editorial team that has some credibility and showcase similar work they have done that has transformed perceptions of a business sector.
  • Offer a design and layout facility that will show participating brands in the best possible light and evoke the spirit of the business sector being profiled.
  • Look for a respected industry commentator to head up the supplement with an opinion piece that stimulates thought.
  • Forget trying to get businesses to blackmail their suppliers into taking small ads. The supplement should be valuable enough for brand owners to want to pay a fair price for it.
  • And remember, you real job doesn’t end with the sale: it starts with it. You must ensure that those businesses that have committed money to the supplement are well looked after. Oh, and have the courtesy to call them after it has run to elicit their feedback.

If this article gets printed, we shall know that some thought is now being given to the matter of the dreaded industry supplements.  

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside, an international company that helps organisations to deliver their brands and strategies through their people.


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