Lining up 2006 ad sales

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Selling advertising for the first month or two of a new calendar year is difficult in most b-to-b industry segments, as client companies wait until the very end of the year or longer to approve new marketing budgets. Although there may be isolated exceptions, 2006 will be more of the same, b-to-b publishers said.

"The first quarter is always a slog, and I don't see any signs of abnormality in 2006," said Teri Mollison, publisher of Penton Media's IndustryWeek. "We have to face the fact-and clients need to face the fact-that marketing and advertising budgets are not among the first to be released."

Noting that ad agencies and clients' marketing departments have been severely downsized over the past few years, she said, "Our customers are getting more overwhelmed every year because they have so many more options and so much pressure to perform." So Mollison encourages her salespeople to challenge and advise their clients, not just to give them what they say they want.

For example, one client wanted to do one Webcast a month. Even though 12 Webcasts would bring in significant revenue, Mollison knew the client would not be increasing its number of new leads very much after the first two or three. "Our job is to protect them from themselves," she said. "We told them why they didn't need 12 Webcasts, and we helped them develop a program that would really accomplish their goals."

Taking a realistic approach to the business environment is also the strategy at VNU's Sales & Marketing Management. "We haven't developed any special programs to encourage advertising in the first quarter in particular," said Thomas Flynn, advertising director. "Most of the companies we deal with don't plan on a yearly basis anymore. Most plan quarter to quarter; some even month to month. So, our strategy is simply to get in touch with people to find out the earliest they'll be able to have a serious conversation about the first quarter. But a lot of companies will end up missing the January issue."

While discounts might interest media buyers, Flynn said he is concerned that "too big a discount lessens the value of advertising." Fortunately, Flynn finds that "higher ups are interested in more than just cheap ad pages. They want face to face, they want the Web, they want qualified leads."

He said he encourages his salespeople to showcase Sales & Marketing Management's total portfolio of capabilities, including print and online advertising, online and live events, and database marketing. Flynn said he sees print advertising continuing to grow very slowly in 2006, as it has since 2001, but he also anticipates "a percent increase in online advertising that's significantly greater than print growth."

Fawn Lopez, publisher of Modern Healthcare at Crain Communications Inc. (parent of Media Business), said her business segment is looking good for 2006. "In the health care vertical market, we're sensing optimism. Based on the verbals from our current customers, we realistically and conservatively think the first quarter of 2006 will be at least as good as the first quarter of this year-which is nothing to sneeze at," she said.

Modern Healthcare will give clients incentives to lock in their 2006 advertising before the end of 2005, if they meet certain stipulations. "But you can't wait until the end of the year to get people excited," Lopez said.

Like Flynn and Mollison, Lopez said she expects her incremental dollars in 2006 to come from online initiatives, while print advertising remains steady. "From what I hear from agencies and clients, they're not taking money from print when they increase online spending. They're taking the dollars from other media." 

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