The right way to sell spec ads

The right way to sell spec ads

By Bob McInnis

Selling spec ads on contract, even if they’re dramatically larger than what a prospect has run in the past or what they think is in their budget, is well within the abilities of most ad reps. But, to succeed, a precise process should be used with little room for error, especially these days with so many other options available to local businesses.

Here’s the right way your ad reps should be using spec ads and how it fits into the larger sales process. If your ad reps follow these steps, they’ll be able to close much larger sales and rarely leave money on the table.

While the spec ad is actually presented on the second sales call, everything to close the sale is set up during the first meeting, so I’m going to show you the structure of both.


The first sales call is where the transformation really takes place. By the time the ad rep leaves that call, they’ll know the odds of getting the sale and if a spec ad is worth creating.

Step One: Lowering Resistance
First, lower resistance, something I covered previously in a popular video. Your ad reps need to get good at that part or the constant rejection may wear away their enthusiasm and confidence before they can get to the next step.

As the video explains, the key is to shift the prospects’ focus away from the upfront stalls and objections and over to what they really care about–response.

Step Two: Triggering the Prospect’s Epiphany
Next, it’s time for your ad rep to show off a little, give the prospect an epiphany about how print and digital response is really accomplished, and successfully shift from “vendor” mode to the coveted “partner” mode.

The key here is for your ad reps to get off the subject of how great your products are and convince the prospect that they can help with the larger issue of response. They need to show they are true print and digital strategists who can help the prospect drive significant revenue by helping them devise an overall response strategy.

We recommend accomplishing this by teaching the prospect a better approach than what they’re currently using. When done right, the prospect will quickly come to their own conclusions that they’ve been making some major mistakes, including that advertising isn’t as subjective as they thought and that if they stick with your ad rep, odds are there will be an enormous payoff.

We find that drawing the concepts out of the prospect using the Socratic method of teaching works best. The ad rep can also think ahead to the objections that’ll most likely come up after the final presentation, and work the concepts into the discussion. We call this lesson the Response Model or “filter”, and again, it changes everything.

In only a couple of minutes, the prospect will believe your ad rep is the most qualified person in your market to help them get a response. The rest of the sales process should then be smooth sailing.

(By the way, if your ad reps think they’re doing this already, odds are they’re instead doing a variation of one of the four “worst ways to sell spec ads” I wrote about in Part 1 of this article.)

Step Three: Question and Answer
If things have gone well up to this point, which they usually do, the rest of the first sales call should be easy. The ad rep offers to apply the new techniques to the prospect’s business and return with an ad. When the prospect agrees, the ad rep asks for a little information about the prospect’s business, competition, and target customers. The prospect will be happy to spend as much time as needed to answer your ad rep’s questions because they now realize the dramatic affect your ad rep can have on their business. Finally, the ad rep sets an appointment to meet later.


The final presentation is actually the easiest part of the whole process as long as the first call was done properly. As you’ll see in the accompanying graphic, this doesn’t involve just showing the ad. To prove, upfront, that the ad will provide a strong response, the ad rep needs to walk the prospect into the logic of it, showing how the information and the effective ad techniques were combined correctly when creating the ad.

Step One: The Product
But first, the ad rep has to show how the newspaper’s products and services reach the right people in the right places so the prospect won’t be thinking how great that spec ad will look in your competitor’s cheaper publication. Then it’s time to move on to make a case that the spec ad will generate revenue for the business. This will take three steps.

Step Two: Confirming the Information About the Prospect’s Business
The ad rep has to convince the prospect that the information collected last time about their products, services, competition, and target customers was properly analyzed and distilled down into the most important elements (step two in the graphic). This should be easy if the ad rep correctly drew this part out of the prospect (and our Presentation Packs show how to do this for a wide variety of categories).

Step Three: Confirming the Approach Used to Arrange the Information
Next, the ad rep has to convince the prospect that the approach used to turn that above information into an ad is sound as well (step 3 in the graphic). Again, since this is the same approach that was drawn out of the prospect on the first sales call (the Response Model or “filter” as we refer to it), it’s really just a matter of reminding the prospect what they told them in the first meeting. Not a difficult sell at all.

Step Four: Showing the Logical Result of the Information
Finally, and only then, the ad rep shows the spec ad (step 4 in the graphic). When approached this way, the ad rep can then position the ad not as his idea, but as the logical result of what the prospect said about his business, products, competition, and target customers combined with the process used to incorporate that information into an ad.

Step Five: Overcoming Objections
Since everything was drawn out of the prospect, there’s rarely an argument about the effectiveness of the ad or size and frequency. When objections do come up, the ad rep can remind the prospect that the ad is based on the very answers the prospect gave them. Every answer should therefore begin with “Sure, we could do that, but remember when you told me…”

The Power of Selling This Way
When a spec ad is sold the right way, the prospect can instantly see why the ad will work for them when others have failed, without ever criticizing their orginal ad. More often than not, they’ll open their wallets wide and sign on the dotted line.

It takes a bit more effort but, in practice, it’s probably more a matter of getting your reps to shift time and effort away from less productive parts of the sales call.

Again, these days, ad reps no longer have the luxury of simply relying on a strong medium. Selling without spec ads or not selling them properly is like leaving out half of the critcal information the advertiser needs to make a decision.

Worse yet, without this step, too often the prospect will continue to see their lack of success with print, digital display, or any of the ever-increasing suite of digital products and services as the fault of the medium, not the message.

The ability of your ad reps to create and properly present not just a good-looking ad, but a solid strategy, will make or break your newspaper.


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