Foreign Policy Ad Exec: Salespeople Must Be Smart, Nimble & Consultative

In recent years Foreign Policy has transitioned from a niche, academic magazine into a global brand that serves international leaders in business, government, finance, and the academic world. “Our vision is to cover the world for the people who are leading it,” explains VP of advertising sales Duc Luu. The shift in strategy has led to significant audience growth for the publication, averaging 2.5 million unique visitors a month, and expansion to new digital platforms. It also has necessitated a shift in how Foreign Policy sells to advertisers.

“The sales process is more about finding and creating insights,” explains Luu. “What that means in terms of the sales interactions is that we actually lead now with insights about global and economic trends instead of a rate card. Then we describe what our capabilities are to help advertisers connect with a very select and highly coveted audience.”

Instead of selling one-off advertising deals to a large amount of advertisers, Foreign Policy is selling large, multi-platform campaigns to a select group of partners. Luu uses a recent partnership with the Embassy of Japan as an example: Last year, the magazine launched an event in Washington D.C. to discuss the future of the U.S.-Japanese relationship, which the Embassy of Japan sponsored. Leading up to that event, Foreign Policy created a branded content platform on its own site dedicated to covering news about Japan. Foreign Policy also promoted the new content vertical across social media and through digital advertising. And finally the embassy sponsored content in the print magazine. The goal of this campaign was for the Embassy of Japan to lead the conversation about U.S. and Japanese relations among a highly targeted audience, says Luu.

“What matters for us isn’t necessarily the platform. It’s more solving the clients’ problems and helping them reach the audience in a different way,” says Luu.

Following Luu explains how the media sales world has changed in light of new technology and platforms and how the most successful salespeople have adapted to excel.

What skills do media salespeople need to be successful today?
We’re fundamentally looking for smart media salespeople. That breaks down in a couple different ways. Salespeople need to be smart and understand what these big trends are and identify opportunities for the companies to latch onto these trends. Then we have to be able to quickly research the companies and understand what they care about, what their needs are, what are the future changes that are going to impact them, and what are the kind of campaigns that we can run that play to our strengths.

You also have to be knowledgeable about the media world and how the media world is changing. You have to be creative about the solutions that we’re then offering our advertisers and our sponsors.

Finally, being a good salesperson also means knowing how to put the clients’ interests at heart. We put the clients’ interest first by knowing what to recommend in terms of the media plan, and knowing when to shift media plans potentially mid-stream if we see one unit or component is performing better.

What are some of the challenges you and your team face when selling these large campaigns?
For us there are two big challenges. The first is overcoming the idea of Foreign Policy as this niche magazine that only looks at academic foreign policy debates. So when we approach prospects with all of these different capabilities, we need to help them overcome this perception of us as just a print magazine. We need to wow potential partners with our reader data, with our capabilities across multiple platforms, with our innovative partnerships we’ve developed so that they have to stop and rethink their perception of us.

Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.