Already, at least seven companies have opened up shop, offering to sell ads on the Web for small sites that can't afford an internal sales force and large sites that need online expertise.
Traditional rep firms including Katz Media Group and Petry Media have created interactive sales divisions. Agency Poppe Tyson spun off its repping business as DoubleClick, and a handful of former agency executives and ad salesmen have huddled into groups, all angling to win a piece of the Web's ad sales pie.
$300 Million Market
Consultancy Jupiter Communications predicts online ad sales will near $300 million this year and hit $5 billion by 2000.
"Most Web sites are technically driven, not marketing driven," said Bob Colvin, president of Interactive Media Sales, Hermosa Beach, Calif. "Many of them don't know how to sell advertising, let alone have the funding to support an ad sales infrastructure."
A Stand-Alone Medium
The Web rep trend goes hand in hand with another trend: selling sites separately from other media.
Early on, ads that appeared on the Web were often part of packages that included print or TV. As advertisers set aside separate Web budgets, media companies are starting to break off their sites as separate buys.
"Selling space on the Web demands a person who understands the economics behind it," said Andrew Pakula, a former partner in Interactive Media Sales who now runs New York-based Orb Communications & Marketing. "But you also need to be able to walk into an advertiser's office and compare the numbers to everything else they're advertising in-trade, newspaper, retail, magazine, promotions, etc."
Because the Web is still an unproven medium, building an internal staff is risky business.
"Frankly, we're not sure if there's a tremendous amount of money in this; it's untested ground," said John Bohan, exec VP of Interactive Connection, a Web developer and rep firm that handles clients including The New York Times' TimesFax and Times syndicates like Computer News Daily and Your Health Daily.
WebRep, a San Francisco company, was born out of one agency executive's frustration.
Apples to Oranges
"I sat at a desk at Anderson and got calls from hundreds of Web sites pitching their sites," said company partner Neil Monnens, a former media buyer at Anderson & Lembke. "Try putting together a media buy of Web sites with their different rates and audiences and measurements-it's like comparing apples to oranges all the time."
WebRep is focusing on handling sales for publishers.
"It's an easy way for magazines to steer clear of value-added deals, and publishers won't have to distract print salesmen from selling their more lucrative print products," he said.
Playboy buys that philosophy: Last week it named Interactive Media Sales to handle Web advertising.
"Each magazine has a world they know how to operate in on the Internet," said Richard Kinsler, Playboy publisher. "But the Internet world at large we need lots of help with; that's why we need an independent rep firm. They know the ins and outs a lot better than we do."
Keeping It In-House
Some traditional media companies that have gone on the Web have either added a few Web sales specialists or trained their existing internal sales force. ESPN, Pathfinder, Hearst HomeArts and Conde Nast Publications all handle Web sales internally.
"Our ad sales force learns things quickly," said John P. Roberts, director of online entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co. "We see no need to go to an independent rep firm; we're the ones who know our network best."