The Advertising Sales Process . . . in a Nutshell

By Cheryl Woodard, Posted March 2002

Obviously, it's a different job selling ads to General Motors or Nike than to your local coffee bar or movie theatre. And it's easier to sell ads for a well-known publication than for a startup or a small independent magazine. Still, we can generalize about the selling process, and if you follow the process I'm describing here, it will serve you equally well in either context.

Step One: Develop a Prospects Database

You can rent mailing lists, comb through competitive publications, or use the yellow pages to find companies who are trying to sell something to your audience. Do your homework and find out who makes the buying decisions for each advertiser. Big companies generally use advertising agencies to help them decide where to run their ads, and of course to create their ads for them. Smaller companies generally make those decisions for themselves. There are reference books in any good business library that will tell you which advertising agency handles which advertisers. While you're doing this research, study where the advertiser is already running their ads and what kind of customers they seem to be trying to reach. The point is that you can save a lot of money and trouble if you carefully research the prospects before you try to approach them.

Step Two: Make Contact

Now write to the decision-makers at each company to introduce yourself. Include something about your publication, enough to make them interested in learning more. For example, include a sample issue and a brief letter describing your circulation and readership. Ask for an appointment, either in person or by telephone to discuss their interest.

Follow-up the letter with a telephone call. The purpose of this call is just to get an appointment for a more detailed discussion, but you should also take time to learn as much as you can about their advertising goals and plans. What kind of customer are they trying to reach? What media are they already using?

When you've got a date for an appointment, send a complete media kit. Include information that responds to the needs that each prospect has expressed to you on the telephone. For example, if they're concerned about reaching women, provide information showing how your publication will appeal to a female audience.

Step Three: Prepare a Proposal

Call or meet with them after they've had plenty of time to review your media kit. This is another fact-finding meeting. You want to find out everything you can about their advertising goals: targeted customers, budget, expected results from advertising, and so on. After this meeting or telephone interview, you will go home and create an advertising proposal for each prospect. The proposal suggests a certain size of ad and frequency, based on what they've told you about their budget and needs. It also includes the price to them based on your rate card and any special offer you are willing to make to them (one free ad if they buy three for example, or a special first-time discount). If you've been listening to them well, and if your publication really does address their needs, then your proposal will be acceptable to them.

Step Four: Close the Sale

Close the sale (either by telephone or in person) by having the advertiser submit an insertion order, which is like a purchase order specifying what size of ad they're buying and for which issues of your publication, and at what price. You can't bill them for the ad until it has been published in your magazine, so help them to supply their advertising materials on time and in the format you need for reproduction in your publication.
As you can see, it takes lots of time and effort to sell one ad to each advertiser. It's very common for publishers to spend six months or a year trying before they can get an advertiser to buy. You should get someone with ad sales experience to help you. And better still, get someone already familiar with the advertisers in your market, someone who might already have personal contacts with them because in the end, personal relationships are what you want to develop.

Read more details about selling ads - from setting prices to hiring sales reps - in my book, Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine, 5th Edition. You can find it in a library or retail bookstores, or order it from


My consulting group helps publishers launch, run and grow newsletters, websites and magazines. If you have questions about selling ads, or if you're having trouble selling enough of them, email Tell us about your situation and we'll give you a proposal showing exactly how we can help you.

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