Every media company, every paper, every publisher, every ad director has a “favorite” method of tracking digital sales success, beyond the ever-present budget numbers.
Part of the reason for a “favorite” checking mechanism has to do with the ever-present question: “How did I really decide on that budget number, and am I confident of the assumptions behind my sales forecast?”
Numbers don’t lie, but they can fib, and fuzzy math is always out there.
But one number that is hard to misinterpret is the simple local sell-through rate. Just how much of your inventory is sold locally – not by networks or other methods, but local sales people filling up your website with ads?
Recently our company conducted a sales survey on behalf of a major U.S. media company, receiving feedback and data from 11 media companies representing 264 newspapers.
Intent of the survey was to measure the success of local digital sales efforts at a variety of companies, with a focus on local sell-through rate. Steps were taken to insure a broad representation of newspapers in the survey. Of the papers surveyed, all were dailies, with a small number of weeklies – a total of 30 – figured in from two companies. The dailies ranged in size from small 8,000 daily circulation to large metro-type papers, around 180,000 circulation. The majority of papers fell in the mid range – 20-50,000 papers
We tried to keep the survey simple and direct to encourage a high rate of participation. We promised and delivered anonymity in exchange for their honest and direct comments. Several of the companies are private, and especially concerned about public comments.
The bottom line: of the papers represented, average sell-through rate was 61 percent.
The low end of the spectrum of papers surveyed was 35 percent local sell-through; the high-end was 95 percent.
And the very positive note: a similar survey completed at the end of 2011 by our company, using the same approach and questions, showed a sell-through rate of 44 percent. That’s a very nice 17 percent increase in just two years.
And in addition to the sell-through rate increase, 89 percent of respondents said their local sell-through rate has increased over the past year.
“We’re running fewer promo and remnant ads than ever, and selling more locally than ever,” said one digital advertising manager at a company representing 12 newspapers.
Another digital director: “We’re on a steady increase that started three years ago; every year we show a double digit growth in local sell-through.”
A metro ad director: “We’ve had a very significant increase over the past 12 months.”
How important is sell-through in the planning and budgeting process?
Ad managers were equally split on this item, with some linking local sell-through rate to goals, and an equal number using it as a point of information.
In all cases, sales managers indicated the sell-through rate was a point of discussion and a key factor in discussing goals with sales executives, whether tied specifically to a goal or not.
“The local sell through rate is not specifically used although the reps are informed every week of the number of opportunities and availability throughout our site,” said one manager at a company which includes eight daily papers.
And, last, the part we like best: are you satisfied with your performance?
“Not satisfied,” said one ad manager. “Our goal is 80 percent.”
“Our sell-through is high (90-plus percent), but 100 percent would be great,” said another.
“Local should always be above 75 percent,” added a third ad director. “That’s what it’s all about, local.”
And where does your newspaper fit?
Media Solutions Partners offers both strategy and hands-on guidance to help media companies and the media industry transition to a creative and innovative digital future. Contact Debbie Reetz at (404-285-8649) and firstname.lastname@example.org or John Reetz at (404) 316-4759 and email@example.com.