Telegraph contract sales looks like risky business

The Telegraph Group is to provide resources for the sales team at beleaguered newspaper Sunday Business. This is unlikely to work well, says Duncan Sillence

Some years after first mooting the idea, the Telegraph Group has entered the contract sales business. A deal has been struck whereby the Sunday Business sales team will use resources at the Telegraph offices.

This arrangement could be seen as the last throw of the dice by Sunday Business – a move certain to be hastened by the advertising downturn. In difficult times it’s essential that the sales department operates as a profit centre.

It won’t make sense in the long term for the sales team to remain employed by Sunday Business. Sunday Business managing director Paul Woolfenden talked of sales structures evolving and consolidating. I think they call it natural attrition.

Initially, the Telegraph will provide the leg up that Sunday Business needs. It will help with leads and help to open doors. But, I can’t see the lines of distinction between the two sales teams remaining for long. The temptation to cross-sell and offer existing Telegraph advertisers incentives will be unavoidable. Nevertheless it will be dangerous.

There might be less overt co-operation – the use of the Telegraph’s extensive mailing list, for example. The possibility of Sunday Business sales reps gate-crashing Telegraph media agency briefings won’t reflect well on either party. Moreover, the Telegraph cannot afford to give revenue away.

It will be interesting to see the sales process in action. Historically, there have been instances where the Sunday Telegraph has crept on to an advertiser’s media schedule because it included the daily. Trying to squeeze Sunday Business on to a schedule might end up with two marginalised Sunday titles. But, the Sunday Telegraph is likely to benefit, as advertisers will find it easier to turn down the opportunity of running an ad in Sunday Business.

The two Sunday titles do not share a core readership. Nor do they share many common advertisers, so in many ways they could sit comfortably together. Sunday Business may now pick up increased revenue which as a standalone it could not. It will largely remain an add-on rather than a lead product.

Because of the extraordinarily quiet nature of August advertising sales this year, we’ll have to wait until the market returns to a more sensible state in the autumn before assessing the success of this initiative. I don’t think this move will herald mass consolidation within the newspaper market – historically, there have been too many spats for that to happen.

There is the grave danger that contract publishing will drive media sales to be more commodity focused. Rather than sell space on the core values of the newspaper – such as positioning and journalists – these sales organisations would focus on the amount of readers a newspaper has. This would be the last thing I would want to happen.

Duncan Sillence is head of press and radio at Starcom Motive

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