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How Circulation Helps
Keep the Sales Force Motivated.

Peter Lenahan has been a salesperson and sales manager for The New Yorker, Condé Nast, Primedia, Scholastic, and a successful consultant to The National Geographic Society, Cowles Publishing, Hearst and Meredith Corporation. Peter's company, Mediasales Associates, presently consults with Group C Communications, Inc. and is launching a new business magazine on alternative investments.  His company has 3 offices across the country and is based in CT.  Peter can be reached at 203 979 3278.

Sales people should learn as much about their magazine’s circulation as is available on the ABC or BPA statement.  Beyond that, well, some circulation information would tend to lower the newer salespersons enthusiasm for the magazine.  Or, just as bad, complicate his understanding of the magazine’s position in the marketplace and its circulation aims and goals.  Complications render that salesperson a non-expert on that which he or she is supposed to be expert -- a quick and painful death on a sales call!

The average sales person believes that all the people who are active in the magazine’s market  - say fisherman - subscribe to Fisherman Magazine.  Or, if not all, then certainly most of them.  This belief in the totality of the magazine’s reach and importance in the market does not occur by accident.  It is necessary for sales people to believe their magazine is the most vital pathway for advertisers to reach their most valuable potential customers.  This belief is particularly important for the less experienced sales staff.  Veterans understand these points.

If sales people are going to convince advertisers to advertise their tackle boxes in Fisherman Magazine, those sales people need to believe that if the advertiser runs a 12 time schedule in the magazine then advertisers will reach the most fisherman in the market.  If the product doesn't sell, it must be the tackle box or the ad itself that’s to blame, rather than an insufficient number of fishermen who are aware of the product.  

When the sales person learns that circulation mails subscription offers to most known fisherman and that sometimes as many as 2% or 3% of them order a subscription…and then only 50% of them actually pay up...well, his or her confidence will be shaken and that individual will be a less effective sales person.   Sharing certain details is not necessary to building an effective advertising sales story. 

When a situation arises that requires a deeper analysis of a magazine’s circulation, sales people should be encouraged- no ordered- to include the circulation director in any discussions beyond the basics in the audit reports.  It would also be wise to ask circulation to discuss how to deal with such situations with the ad sales director or publisher before bringing in the sales team.

Magazine circulation data has become less of an issue over the past few years as web offerings have lowered the bar for what used to be the most basic qualifier for advertisers: finding and advertising to "Qualified" readers. Eventually there will be a re-focus on qualifying readership and more data will be required by advertisers for additional platforms such as mobile and iPad.  That’s coming soon, I'm sure.

As we get closer to that moment, there is much the circulation professional can do to help the magazine’s sales staff now.  Advertisers want and need to be ahead of trends and circulators can be the first to see those trends reflected in the magazine’s readership.  Is the magazine showing new strength in certain geographies or demographics?  Is a particular mailing list working better than usual?  If so, why? What does that say about the magazine’s relevance and vitality? Is there a correlation of the needs of readers to a specific advertiser or category of advertisers?

One of the magazines I worked with had a circulation staff that noticed that the magazine was particularly popular in specific cities that turned out to be the gateways for many international airlines.  Another saw that a mailing list of a recently folded "hot" magazine worked well enough for us to assume the "hipness" banner that the recently folded magazine had used with so much success (not complete success, clearly). Circulators should be the first to recognize a reaction to editorial changes and should alert salespeople to the new kind of readers those change attract.  Or, in some cases, stops attracting. 

A magazine’s success or failure depends on the kind of reader the magazine’s editorial attracts Circulators see this information reflected not only in new but renewal promotion efforts as well.  If you share the information first with management and then with the sales force, it becomes a powerful way to motivate the sales team, keep management informed and provide an opportunity to adjust the sales strategy before a real problem exists.