Sales Rants: The Pretty Proposal

An undercover magazine ad exec reveals what it takes to get that all-important commission and quarterly bonus

Lonny Rosenblatt*
I am staring across the table at Lonny, who is negotiating a side order of asparagus to go with his branzino. We are in an expensive Italian restaurant located across the street from a strip mall out on Long Island, and this is the bi-annual trek from the city to sit at the knee of the master and suck in his wisdom. In the Industry, Lonny used to be top boy. Now, sitting somewhat slumped over his fish, his slightly dated tie threatening to flop into his bread plate, Lonny is bemoaning the Industry’s fate.

Lonny sells to retailers, and the retail trade is dying. Best Buy. Circuit City. Wal-Mart. There are hardly any old-line retailers left to sell to. Lonny used to be our fifth-largest print advertiser, and now he’s pulling a 6-time schedule of black-and-white half-pages instead of the glory days, when the product line was fat and Lonny presided over a budget that allowed for dozens of 4-color pages a year.

My job, along with that of my colleague—an amiable sales director named Rod—is to ask Lonny questions that we already know the answers to, while looking captivated as Lonny dispenses Industry Knowledge. After all, Lonny is our 15th-biggest customer, and despite the ailing condition of the business, he’s one of the few advertisers willing to throw down a complete schedule at the beginning of the year. That makes our lives easier, and if the price of his guaranteed schedule is to check up on him over a $300 Italian meal in the depths of Long Island, then that’s what we have to do.

The sick part of it is: I love doing this. I have been looking forward to seeing Lonny since Monday and as I tuck into another piece of veal, I inquisitively meet Lonny’s eyes as he continues lamenting the State of the Industry, all while wondering whether it’d be appropriate to get another glass of that Chianti.

**

Nice Sale
I just hung up the phone with Big Imaging Company and negotiated a deal that still has me grinning well into the fourth Excel tab of our company’s absurd boilerplate insertion order. Jim has some ambitious plans for 3Q, and as #1 Industry Mag, we have a lot to sell. As part of a multinational publishing company, we are obligated to “straddle media” and “deliver the gateway.” What that means is that nobody’s buying print advertising anymore, so you have to work three times as hard selling banner ads, custom publications, Webcasts, and face-to-face marketing opportunities just to make the same amount of money you’d otherwise be raking in with print.

Jim, my contact, has just agreed to spend a dollar amount equivalent to 20 percent of our annual display advertising budget to push a special marketing initiative. And even though our rates are just a premium-positioning charge compared to the national consumer press, I shudder with glee as I tab in an extra zero on the order’s net sales field. Naturally, my first instinct is to compose a self-congratulatory “send all” email outlining my monster sale.

I decide against it. The sale I just made will serve to double the work of the heinously underpaid custom media department which, unlike me, will never see a nickel of the sale I just closed. Instead, I write a 1,200-word “we-mail” outlining all the work they need to do for the program, and close my door to call Jan.

**

Jan
It’s 11 A.M. and Jan, my wife, is yammering into my ear. I’m typing furiously, the phone wedged between my shoulder and my ear, trying to provide some guidance on Big Imaging Company’s Web development project. I hear something about the roof (leaking?) amid background noise comprised of my 4-year old daughter crying, my 6-year old son explaining (“I didn’t do it”), and the shrill barking of my 11-year old dog, Nudgy. As Jan hits me with some more information (bring something home for dinner?), my other 11-year old dog Scout joins the high-decibel chorus. The house sounds like it has been invaded by a paramilitary organization run by the ASPCA.

It always amazes me that we can spend a couple of dollars on color printer ink, take a few hours to put together some sheets of paper, and then put a price tag of $100,000 on it.

I keep typing, retaining virtually nothing of our “conversation.” Line two rings through with a 202 area code. It’s Big Washington Media Partner. I tell Jan I have to take the call, and I’ll get back to her in five minutes. I wind up calling her from the train seven hours later, on the ride back home. “Did you ask me to bring something home to eat?”

There are loud noises in my ear again; I think Jan’s yelling at me.

**

The Miracle of Design
As Associate Publisher of No. 1 Industry Mag, it’s my job to organize the sales team and drum up new business. We publish about 24 print magazines a year, run about 10 Web sites, own a few e-commerce businesses and have a big trade show. We sell about $10,000,000 worth of stuff a year, and most of it comes in dribs and drabs of under $5,000. We have eight salespeople who try to make that happen. Orders are the lifeblood of our business and, like car accident victims, our only chance of survival is to be constantly transfused with a steady stream of our lifeblood: hard American currency, collected diligently every thirty days.

A good deal of our lifeblood is gathered in large amounts. These are the big sales, ranging from anywhere between $50,000 and $200,000. In other words, they’re the sales that need the pretty proposal. We do that better than anyone in the business.

What is the pretty proposal? It’s taking the contents of an email proposal and having someone absurdly talented turn that proposal into an ad-quality PDF—complete with logos, pictures, and neatly-set text, preferably in a sans-serif font. It comes in full color, and may or may not be submitted via PowerPoint presentation, which basically says the same thing, but with even more images.

We sell ideas, and those ideas have to look good. It always amazes me that we can spend a couple of dollars on color printer ink, take a few hours to put together some sheets of paper, and then put a price tag of $100,000 on it. Initial investment? Zero. The problems only start when someone actually takes us up on it.

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 5/31/2006]

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