Media: pounds 25,000+ at 26? Not bad for a salesperson

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The Independent Online
Sales used to be regarded as the least glamorous job in the media. But good money and perks, plus a surfeit of available positions, makes it more and more attractive

"A salesman has got to dream, boy," is how Arthur Miller famously defined the huckster's art, "It comes with the territory."

Unfortunately, a media salesman has to do rather more than dream. He has to trade in the recondite advertising world of cost per thousands and station average price. This salesman has to walk at the very front line of the media business, continually treading a tightrope of rejection before he can hope to emerge breathless with that faxed rationalisation of his role - the holy grail, the sale.

It's a tricky balancing act. The media salesman has to be an eloquent professional, conversant with the mental arithmetic skills of the forex dealer; and yet, like his City cousin, he must also have about him that touch of the extrovert - even if that means he must simply bark loudly on an ever-present phone, all the while continuing to sport loud ties or shoulder pads a decade after such brash sartorial style was ever tolerated. The media salesman has to do all this and still be in little doubt of the way many in the media will treat him.

"Media sales is the lowest form of media life. At least that's how many people think. They tend to dismiss salespeople - both men and women - as loud, brash and insensitive," admits Ben Hadfield, himself a former salesman and now a senior consultant at the media recruitment specialists Carreras Lathane.

"They look at jobs like TV presenter or DJ as the very top end of the media, and then work down past still-glamorous roles like the journalist or TV production person, all the way down to media sales. But there aren't that many careers where a 26-year-old can be earning a basic pounds 25,000 a year, with up to pounds 8,000 in commission, driving a company car, running an expense account and looking after a team of people. Media sales is one of them."

And the fact remains that this is the one area of the media where the supply of appropriately motivated staff has problems keeping up with the demand. Although for some years now most of the entrants have had some form of higher education, increasingly nowadays employers are prepared to cast their net ever wider in the search for individuals with the requisite hunger.

"Academic qualifications aren't as important in sales as in other branches of the media," Hadfield says. "In marketing or planning, where there is a need to write detailed reports and spend time on research, obviously it's a different story. But in sales, employers don't want people who spend 10 weeks coming up with a beautifully reasoned essay. They want people who can think on their feet, tell you off the top of their head what 7 per cent of seven is, and not be afraid when they get given a list of calls to make and a financial target to hit. It's true that we don't in this country tend to give salespeople the respect they deserve, but the fact is, it's job with a fantastic social side and a great sense of achievement once you complete a deal."

That is not to say that the job is entirely visceral, or that there is no creativity required. One consequence of the explosion of new media outlets is that many established media brands, especially in television, are having to manage a long-term decline in readership or viewer numbers. It's the salesman's job to think of reasons why advertisers should stay with them through this decline. And because of the way air time is priced, on ITV, for example, this already stiff challenge is becoming even stiffer. On ITV, as the number of viewers falls, then, bizarrely, the price of advertising rises. It's the salesman's job to tell the client that his spot in the middle of Blind Date this year will reach 2 million fewer people than it did this time last year. Oh, and cost 10 per cent more than it did then. By any standards, it is hardly the most comfortable sell in the world.

But the fragmentation of media is also, of course, causing the already considerable opportunities in the media sales industry to increase by the day. Nowhere is the increase in opportunities more apparent than in the TV and new media.

"The career progression for salespeople used to take them from selling classified ads on a trade or technical magazine up through selling display ads before moving to a consumer title, but no more.

"It's got much more flexible now, simply because there are so many new media outlets," points out Shirley Nelson, associate director at the recruitment specialists, the Davis Company. "And the biggest change is the development of the whole Internet and new media area, where there is such a lack of qualified sales people that they are now having to offer vast sums of money to entice salespeople.

"Nevertheless they are still having trouble finding the right people."

It is not just that there are more media outlets. The added competition has caused many operations that were content in the past to farm out their sales to a third party, to resume charge of their own destiny.

"Here in the radio industry one company, the Capital Radio-owned MS&M, used to represent 92 stations. It was difficult for salespeople to get the message of individual stations across," agrees Tom Toumazis, managing director of Emap On-Air, the sales operation for radio stations such as London's Kiss FM. "That's changed and now sales points like ourselves are looking after far fewer stations and determined to employ quality people to get the message and flavour of our stations across to clients."

It means the media sales person has the chance to do much more than merely tap in numbers on a calculator. He has to make the client dream.