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Advertising Sales Agents - What They Do

Advertising sales agents—often referred to as account executives or advertising sales representatives—sell or solicit advertising primarily for newspapers and periodicals, television and radio, websites, telephone directories, and direct mail and outdoor advertisers. Because such a large share of revenue for many of these media outlets is generated from advertising, advertising sales agents play an important role in their success.

More than half of all advertising sales agents work in the information sector, mostly for media firms including television and radio broadcasters, print and Internet publishers, and cable program distributors. Firms that are regionally based often need the help of two types of advertising sales agents, one to handle local clients and one to solicit advertising from national advertisers. Print publications and radio and television stations employ local sales agents, who are responsible for sales in an immediate territory, while separate companies known as media representative firms sell advertising space or time for media owners at the national level. Sales agents employed in media representation work exclusively through executives at advertising agencies, called media buyers, who purchase advertising space for their clients who want to initiate national advertising campaigns. When a local television broadcaster, radio station, newspaper, or online publisher is working with a media representative firm, the media company normally employs a national sales manager to coordinate efforts with the media representative.

Most advertising sales agents work outside the office occasionally, calling on clients and prospective clients at their places of business. These agents may have an appointment, or they may practice cold calling—arriving without an appointment. Obtaining new accounts is an important part of the job, and they may spend much of their time traveling to and visiting prospective advertisers and current clients. Sales agents also may work on their employer's premises and handle sales for customers who walk in or telephone the firm to inquire about advertising. Some may make telephone sales calls as well—calling prospects, attempting to sell the media firm's advertising space or time, and arranging followup appointments between interested prospects and sales agents.

A critical part of building relationships with clients is learning about their needs. Before the first meeting with a client, a sales agent gathers background information on the client's products, current customers, prospective customers, and the geographic area of the target market. The sales agent then meets with the clients to explain how specific types of advertising will help promote the client's products or services most effectively. If a client wishes to proceed, the advertising sales agent prepares an advertising proposal to present to the client. Preparation of the proposal entails determining the advertising medium to be used, preparing sample advertisements, and providing the client with cost estimates for the project. Because consolidation among media industries has brought the sales of different types of advertising under one roof, advertising sales increasingly are in the form of integrated packages. This means that advertising sales agents may sell packages that include print and online ad space and time slots with a broadcast subsidiary. Technological innovations also have created more products to sell, meaning that a local television sales agent might sell ad space on a station’s Web site and mobile service, in addition to selling commercials.

After a contract has been established, advertising sales agents serve as the main contact between the advertiser or ad agency and the media firm. They handle communication between the parties and assist in developing sample artwork or radio and television spots if needed. For radio and television advertisements, they also may arrange for commercial taping sessions and accompany clients to the sessions.

In addition to maintaining sales and overseeing clients' accounts, advertising sales agents' other duties include analyzing sales statistics and audience demographics, preparing reports on clients’ accounts, and scheduling and keeping appointments and work hours. They read about new and existing products and monitor the sales, prices, and products of their competitors. In many firms, the advertising sales agent handles the drafting of contracts specifying the advertising work to be performed and its cost, and may undertake customer service responsibilities such as answering questions or addressing any problems the client may have with the proposal. Sales agents also are responsible for developing sales tools, promotional plans, and media kits, which they use to help make a sale.

Work Environment
Selling can be stressful because income and job security depend directly on the agent's ability to maintain and expand his or her clientele. Companies generally set monthly sales quotas and place considerable pressure on advertising sales agents to meet those quotas. The added stress of rejection places more pressure on the agent.

Although most agents work long and often irregular hours, some have the freedom to determine their own schedules. The Internet and other electronic tools allow agents to do more work from home or while on the road, enabling them to send messages and documents to clients and coworkers, keep up with industry news, and access databases that help them target potential customers. Advertising sales agents use e-mail to conduct much of the business with their clients.

Many advertising sales agents work more than 40 hours per week, frequently involving irregular hours and work on weekends and holidays. However, many advertising sales agents are able to set their own schedules. Ten percent of advertising sales agents were employed part time in 2008.

Education & Training Required
Although a high school diploma may be sufficient for an entry-level advertising sales position, some employers prefer applicants with a college degree, particularly for sales positions that require meeting clients. Courses in marketing, leadership, communication, business, and advertising are helpful. For those who have a proven record of successfully selling other products, educational requirements are not likely to be strict.

Most training, however, takes place on the job, and can be formal or informal in nature. In most cases, an experienced sales manager instructs a newly hired advertising sales agent who lacks sales experience. In this one-on-one environment, supervisors typically coach new hires and observe them as they make sales calls and contact clients. Supervisors then advise the new hires on ways to improve their interaction with clients. Employers may bring in consultants to lead formal training sessions when agents sell to a specialized market segment, such as automotive dealers or real estate professionals.

Other Skills Required (Other qualifications)
Employers look for applicants who are honest and who possess a pleasant personality and neat professional appearance. After gaining entry into the occupation, the advertising sales agent will find that successful sales experience and the ability to communicate effectively become more important than educational attainment. In fact, when the agent is selling or soliciting ad space, personality traits are equally, if not more, important than one’s academic background. In general, smaller companies are more willing to hire unproven individuals.

Because they represent their employers to the executives of client organizations, advertising sales agents must have excellent interpersonal and written communication skills. Being multilingual, particularly in English and Spanish, is another skill that will benefit prospective advertising agents as media increasingly seek to market to Hispanics and foreign-born persons. Self-motivation, organization, persistence, independence, and the ability to multitask are required because advertising sales agents set their own schedules and perform their duties without much supervision. Creativity also is an invaluable trait for advertising sales agents, who must come up with new ways to attract clients and to serve existing ones.

Advertising Sales Agents - What They Do - Page 2

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