SWOT Away Lackluster Ad Sales

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SWOT Away Lackluster Ad SalesDuring a recent AM&P Lunch & Learn, sales expert Robert Silverstein shared how to apply the SWOT business strategy and other great tips to improve your association’s advertising sales results.

By Mark Wright

"How’s business? How are your ad sales?” asks Robert Silverstein, the featured speaker at AM&P’s September 29, 2015, Lunch & Learn, in opening his presentation on "Applying Business Strategy to the Sale of Advertising.”The answer, according to participants: pretty mixed. Association publishers and advertisers alike are trying to navigate print-versus-digital issues, among other challenges.Silverstein explained that developing a sound ad-sales strategy starts with a SWOT analysis — realistically examining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats your products face in the marketplace they serve.

"Look at your organization as a whole, as well as at your individual products and the environment in which they’re operating,” he says. "Each product and each target market should have its own SWOT analysis.”

All About SWOT

Silverstein took Lunch & Learn attendees on a step-by-step exploration of SWOT analysis and walked through its application to a couple of real-world companies. Key SWOT elements that might apply to your organization’s ad sales include:

  • Strengths — your association’s reputation in its industry or profession and the success of its other products such as its annual convention.
  • Weaknesses — publications held back by small circulations and/or a part-time sales staff — either can hold you back, he says.
  • Opportunities— what’s happening in the association’s field, such as changes in your competition or new regulations that have a direct and positive impact on your members.
  • Threats — external issues could jeopardize your ability to succeed.

Silverstein says you need to grasp both internal and external factors during your SWOT analyses — and understand your limitations. You may be able to control or change internal factors (e.g. strengths and weaknesses). But the only thing you can control about external factors (e.g. opportunities and threats) is how you react to them.

Next, Silverstein offered practical B2C and B2B examples of SWOT analysis that included a discussion of how a brand like Goya might advertise its pinto beans in two different markets: Washington, DC and Boise, Idaho.

Start with audience demographics, says Silverstein:

  • DC is a pretty bean-friendly town. Brand awareness of Goya is high, plenty of stores carry the product, and ad messaging can leverage customers’ familiarity with and acceptance of pinto beans in their meals.
  • Boise, on the other hand, might present some hurdles, and a SWOT analysis will identify tactics to overcome them. Customers in Boise might be clueless about the Goya brand. Goya beans are not readily available in local stores. And Boise customers are probably used to potatoes instead of pinto beans on their dinner plates.

Silverstein’s point: Goya’s strategy to sell its beans in the two markets will be different for each — and SWOT is a vital part of any ad-strategy recipe. From an association’s perspective, advertisers are like those bean customers. You have to segment them into specific groups and create a SWOT analysis for each one.

"For example, some advertisers are also trade show exhibitors, while others will focus only on advertising in your competition to reach their target market,” he says. A thorough SWOT analysis will help guide your organization’s sales efforts to each of these unique groups.

Silverstein also led Lunch & Learn attendees in a hands-on SWOT analysis demonstration in which AM&P member Chris Murphy, senior director, communications & publisher at NAFSA: Association of International Educators, discussed some of his organization’s advertising challenges and received audience feedback.

Really Understand Your Prospects

Association publishers have to know their ad prospects, which means understanding their goals and the return on investment each one seeks. After all, notes Silverstein, advertisers do their own SWOT analysis to decide what role — if any — your association might play in helping them build profitable relationships in their marketplace.

"Think of target markets as individual groups of people,” says Silverstein. "Each group has unique needs.”

Associations that think they’re simply selling ad space miss the point. "You’re not selling space,” Silverstein emphasizes. "You’re selling value. Potential advertisers ask: ‘How can your media help my company reach its goals?’”

Silverstein points out that an association’s sales staff may be its most valuable asset in understanding how to best serve the marketplace. "Speak with your ad sales people to get market and competitor intelligence,” Silverstein urges. "And don’t blame staff for weak sales, but utilize the results of the SWOT analysis to create tactics that your sales staff can implement in the field.”

When asked if most associations use their own staff or outside contractors for ad sales, attendees’ show of hands revealed a 50/50 split. Silverstein discussed the pros and cons of each approach, but emphasized that the best choice is to "just use your best people,” wherever you find them.

Develop Your Own Client Relationships

That being said, Silverstein discussed how advertising agencies work and the role they play in the placement of their clients’ advertising.

"Ad agencies are not your ally in your ad sales program,” he says. "They’re in business to make 15 percent off their clients’ ad placements. There’s no incentive for an ad agency to change the plan in your favor. They will not help you sell ads.”

A better approach: Develop your association’s relationship with each supplier in your industry directly.

"There’s nothing more valuable than personal, face-to-face relationships,” Silverstein says. "Ad agencies may not respond to your request to include your publication in their ad plans, but they will certainly listen to that request when it comes from their client.”

Ultimately, explains Silverstein, make sure your ad strategy is realistic, executable, and manageable. "Every strategy should be measured by something that can be counted. Those data points must be used to measure your success.”

For more ad sales tips, Silverstein invited attendees to visit

Mark Wright is a freelance writer and communication consultant based in Rockville, Maryland. AM&P is grateful for his volunteer work in covering this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.

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