Despite the fact that the Internet revolution started some 20 years ago, many publishers are still fighting with the powers of change through digital. While reader-facing departments struggle to find the right balance between free, freemium and paid content models, many publisher’s back offices still work with advertising sales technology from the nineteen-nineties. Here’s what ad sales managers should do to survive.

The past couple of years have shown how fast technical progress is changing online marketing. Trending topics like programmatic and real-time advertising or direct deals are not only recognised as relevant, they are being put into practice more and more. Often, it is the advertisers pushing the adoption of new technologies that help them spend every advertising penny as efficiently as possible. The pressure on marketers and publishers to mirror that development to meet the demand is increasing accordingly. The buzzword du jour is “automation”. And, sadly, it is precisely what ad sales departments in many publishing houses have only little grasp of.

Holding pixels in stock

From a technical standpoint, the current state of affairs in ad sales departments is disillusioning. Isolated solutions for individual tasks are the norm. They force employees in departments such as ad operations to find ways of bridging the media breaks created by their software solutions for sales, booking, delivery and billing of digital and print advertising inventory.

It’s not uncommon to find processes similar to this: Fax-to-Excel-to-ERP-to-Excel-to-Adserver. And it’s not hard to imagine how inefficient and time-consuming such manual work must be. The reason behind these processes that are equally frustrating for employees and agencies are often outdated IT systems. They force ad sales to treat digital inventory much like a traditional ERP system would account for physical products. They literally put pixels ‘in stock’ before they can be quoted and sold just like you would sell a physical coil of printing paper.

As a consequence, publishers suffer from rigid processes, unnecessary costs and wasted revenue opportunities. In addition, adapting old systems to new requirements is a costly strategy because it requires an expensive specialist expertise and a time consuming testing and roll-out process for each update. In times of readily available and cost-effective multi-tenant cloud platforms such a legacy approach to software solutions is, quite frankly, a complete waste of time and money.

The challenges for media companies don’t end here. As cross-media advertising strategies become dominant, publishers get under pressure to create ad sales processes capable of efficiently making cross-media campaigns come to life. Print and online advertising don’t live independently of each other anymore, but become closely interlinked. And the ties get even tighter as video ads and digital out-of-home campaigns join the mix. Publishers unable to match that complexity with cost-effective ad sales processes are bound to lose the digital race.

In a nutshell, there is no way publishers will survive in a cross-media digital advertising world with tools and sales processes once created for the good old print world. The pressure to change is here and there is only so much time to act. The ultimate goal for traditional publishers must be to bring their tools and processes up to par with what their advertising clients are already used to.

Ad sales has to accept its role and actively help shape it

But it is not all doom and gloom for ad sales managers. There is a tremendous opportunity in this situation that can put ad sales in a pivotal role for the future of publishing houses. If we’re completely honest we must concede that even the most elaborate paywall strategy for online properties won’t compensate for the loss of revenue from the print and subscription sources. Reader behaviour and readiness to pay will not change for the better quickly enough for publishers to just sit and wait.

So a simple truth remains: “No advertising? No publishing!” So why wouldn’t ad sales managers want to assume a leading role in helping the publishing industry make that turn-around a reality. It’s true, the publishing business has become a complex beast, with new channels to reach audiences and new technologies to deliver content and targeted advertising. But who, if not ad sales managers, could assume the role of experts for “digital revenue management”? They already have the necessary central position in publishing organisations. Like a spider in the web they can connect editorial staff, ad operations, media agencies, advertisers and – not least – IT departments. To succeed, all of them must work together. Ad sales can be the department that ties all threads together. Because one thing is certain: The speed of innovation needed for a successful advertising business can only be achieved through collaboration of all stakeholders in the publishing organisation.

Potential to transform business through collaboration

The advertising and publishing businesses are in the midst of a technological and organisational revolution. Simultaneously, the strategic potential to transform the business is just as great. Ad sales has to (be able to) play an active role in shaping and standardising processes and IT so that publishers, partners and advertisers can maximise profits from new publishing models and marketing solutions.

Those responsible for generating revenue for publishers should show an interest in eliminating obstacles on the way to greater efficiency, lower costs and higher profits. To do this, old systems must be replaced by cheaper, scalable multi-tenant solutions. They can take pressure off IT departments by eliminating the need for updates and software maintenance. On the part of processes, again, modern end-to-end solutions for ad management ensure smooth processes by technically integrating with CRM, order and contract management, content management systems, DSPs, SSPs and ad servers.

Together with publishers’ IT experts, advertising sales managers can then concentrate on modelling proprietary features into the software. And when that’s all done, there is still enough time for the daily reports to the board of directors.

Managers of digital change

No matter how complex and pressing publishers’ issues are in the face of the speed of digital innovation in the business, they will only be able to achieve efficiency, if they manage to standardise ad sales across all channels. Ultimately, the entire sector will benefit from this. In this respect, ad sales or ad operations directors can position themselves as managers of digital change, whilst also providing a salesman’s foresight.

Bernd Bube

Bernd Bube


Bernd Bube, founder and managing director of