Don't knock it, selling space is a vital job

Scott Hughes looks at media sales - a tough, well-rewarded and much-maligned career
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"You get a terrific buzz from the environment of the sales floor," enthuses Andrea Grant, who once sold advertising space for the Daily Express and now manages the specialist recruitment agency Media Appointments. "Selling really gets the adrenaline pumping. But you have to be money- oriented: everyone's got sales targets and commission thresholds to meet. It's a fast-paced, dynamic environment, and promotion is fast: you can get to be an advertising manager as young as 25 or 26."

Her pride in the business is evident, but the general perception of a career in media sales - selling advertising space in or on anything from billboards to broadsheets - is negative. It probably has to do with the British snobbery toward anyone selling anything, as any secondhand-car dealer or double-glazing rep will tell you. On the face of it, media sales is another absolutely fabulous Nineties career, enriching purely in the financial sense, and therefore appealing mainly to graduates with overdrafts to clear. You can look down your nose at it, but there's no escaping the fact that it's an essential part of the consumerist machine. How else can the media assert their independence from the state other than by securing revenue from advertisers? Somebody's got to do it, and maybe some of the 8,000-10,000 people who do so actually enjoy it.

The recruitment market is especially buoyant at the moment, and according to Lindsay Newman, recruitment consultant at Price Jamieson, attractions for new graduates are many. For a start, there's the youthful, fast-paced working environment, and the possibility of quick progression to management level. Also, the sales experience that can be gained qualifies you for a huge number of positions both in and out of media sales, with, say, blue-chip companies or advertising agencies. Indeed, many eventually feel experienced enough to set up their own publishing companies.

"Graduates now see that there is a clear career path in media sales", says Andrea Grant. "It is now looked upon as a career, rather than just a job." Training programmes are thorough, and on top of the average starting salary of pounds 12,000-14,000 a classified telesales executive can earn another pounds 4,000 in commission. With two years' experience the basic salary can rise to pounds 16,000-18,000, with pounds 6,000 in commission on top, and a newly promoted advertising manager can earn up to pounds 30,000, including commission.

A few years down the line, someone who has specialised in selling, say, travel advertising on a regional title, can take their expertise and the rapport they have built up with clients, to a job on a national. Also, as publishers expand to take in the growth of new media, such as CD-Rom and the Internet, the number of senior positions is increasing. "Looking at media sales long-term", says Grant, "it's a very exciting area to work in when new publications are constantly being launched. New areas within media publishing are extensive, career opportunities are increased, and potentially you can earn a lot of money. At 31, you could be a publisher on a magazine and earning up to pounds 70k."

But to get there, claims Lindsay Newman, "you need to be the right sort of person - it's not enough to be a graduate." She is looking for candidates with a real desire to sell, and a commitment to media, as opposed to other kinds of sales. Also on the list of musts are drive, energy, tenacity, resilience and real business acumen, but, "you will still only succeed if you have personality", she warns. "You need to be gregarious, outgoing, and have a sense of team spirit."

Such stringent demands of a new recruit must mean that the pumping adrenaline and bulging pay-packets do not form the whole story, and Newman is quick to point out that any expectation of glamour is a misconception - a leftover from the Eighties. "The industry has gone through recession", she explains, "and it has become clear that these positions entail a lot of hard work. It can also be very repetitive at the beginning, and unless you are thick- skinned, very demoralising when you meet with rejection."

Starting out is Cheryl Clarke, a 23-year-old graduate four months into a job at Dennis Publishing. She admits it's very hard work - "you're not selling a tangible thing, you're selling a concept". But she has already been allowed to become involved with clients, and the intensive training has equipped her with valuable business and communication skills. In fact, the main source of frustration for her is people's lack of understanding as to what media sales involves. But she is having a good time, and her prospects seem excellent. "There's plenty of life and atmosphere, and I've picked up many skills in a very short time. Now I feel as if I can sell the proverbial snow to Eskimos and coal to Newcastle."