4 Ways to Increase Editorial & Sales Collaboration

Sarah Cooke, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, Credit Union Times

Too often in publishing, an us-versus-them culture dominates, even though everyone has the same goal of growing a successful business. My heart is still in editorial, where I spent 13 years of my career, but as both publisher and editor-in-chief of Credit Union Times I have a unique view of the pressures both sides face.

We must all figure out how to win the game. Give too much on the editorial side, you lose integrity and possibly audience. Soften too much on the sales side, you lose revenue. So how do you find balance?

  1. Create a single business strategy

Study the top issues for your audience. Use your industry knowledge, data tools like Chartbeat and Google Analytics, and reader surveys to determine the top three or so issues. Then study your top growing advertiser segments. The overlap is your sweet spot for collaboration. Your audience needs information and practical assistance, and vendors need leads. Our job is to connect the two parties so they can both be successful.

  1. Set expectations

I’ve had the publisher who demanded that we distribute a list of advertisers to editorial and told me they would be our first calls for interviews. I promptly told him NO. We’ve also had the editor who walked into a sales meeting and proceeded to scream, unprovoked, at the sales team to leave the edit staff completely alone. Neither is acceptable.

When I interview sales candidates, one of the questions I ask is about their philosophy toward editorial. On the editorial side, I’ve recently promoted an internal candidate to executive editor, in part, because she had a background in marketing and business development so she had some understanding of sales.

Hiring strategically and setting expectations internally is critical, but so is setting external expectations. I had a client just a few months ago who threatened pulling his advertising because we didn’t run a press release from his organization. I tried talking it out with him but when that didn’t work, I told him that what he did with his advertising dollars was up to him. We ended up keeping the revenue. It doesn’t always work out that way, but Credit Union Times is the leader in our market because we don’t play that game.

  1. Collaborate proactively with mutual respect

Invite salespeople to some editorial meetings so they can learn about the industry. They use it for small talk with clients and helping to identify sales targets and growth areas. And it’s OK for editors to attend some sales calls with clients to talk shop prior to the marketing discussions.

A common question among editorial is, “How do we get sales people to read the publication?” While they should have a working knowledge to get through some small talk, their primary expertise is selling. Editorial isn’t required to learn about sales tactics or which clients spend what. Expecting the reverse is not appropriate.

I also suggest keeping the editorial team up-to-date on the brand’s financial status, including key points from overall revenue to specific business lines. Publishers and sales also must acknowledge that editorial content is the foundation of the business in a meaningful way.

  1. Set up workflows for innovation

Great ideas can come from anywhere, editorial or sales, clients or audience members. Editorial shouldn’t be too quick to brush off an idea simply because it comes from sales, and vice versa. Everyone has a duty to everyone else to keep the company moving forward for all of our benefits, and that relies upon two key pieces: useful, quality content in all formats and funding. Publishers and editors should liaise on joint projects. A client may come with an idea, but it will require a joint effort between editorial and sales to develop the content and value proposition more fully and execute.

Ultimately, to be successful editorial and sales need to work together to find their way to ‘yes.’ It must be achieved without either side demanding anything beyond respect. Certainly sales should know the industry they’re serving, but they will never have the grasp that editorial has. And there’s nothing wrong with an editor going to a meeting to provide the client a 50,000-foot overview of industry trends they’re seeing, then backing away from the marketing part of the conversation. Definitely listen though; it’s eye opening, not only to the pressures your sales brethren face, but also to hearing the client’s needs and potentially creating an entirely new editorial product that fulfills the client’s needs and generates revenue. I’m happy to share several specific examples. Editorial and sales are experts in their own areas of the business, and both are working as one team to the best of their abilities to win the game.

Sarah Cooke