Turner Network Television has embarked on an ambitious program to teach its affiliates’ sales staffs how to develop new revenue streams from manufacturers while cross-promoting Turner programming on local channels.
“We got out in front [of the downturn] with this,” said Jerry Ware, vice president, local advertising sales, Turner Network Sales.
The TNT sales program was greenlighted nearly a year ago, and affiliate training has been under way since last January. The program, which has just been renewed for another year, has already trained sales staffs at affiliates in eight large markets: Adelphia in Los Angeles, Comcast in Philadelphia and AT&T in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle.
More than 100 people have been trained so far, and the program has generated about $1.3 million for the affiliates in “new and incremental revenue from existing clients,” about $100,000 more than TNT had predicted would be generated before the program began, Mr. Ware said.
What Turner gets back is approximately $75,000 worth of cross-channel on-air promotional spots for TNT from each affiliate that participates, he said. And of course there are the in-store promotions that offer prizes and sweepstakes while touting TNT programming.
Here’s how the TNT program works:
Turner commissioned Breakthrough Marketing, a sales training company specializing in revenue-development techniques, to go into the eight markets and teach affiliate sales staff how to “acquire vendor support funds from manufacturers,” Mr. Ware said.
Through the training, local salespeople learned to go beyond the mom and pop grocers, the hardware stores, the local car dealers and the electronics stores in their own areas to deal directly with the manufacturers of the products stocked by those retailers.
Sales staff learned that there was local ad revenue to be garnered not just from the local Circuit City or Best Buy but directly from Sony and other manufacturers; not just from the local supermarketbut from Heinz and Kraft; not just from the local Gap but from Van Heusen and Levi’s.
In turn, that manufacturing money funded the in-store promotions and consumer sweepstakes that featured TNT movies and other programming. TNT itself then produced in-store promotions and displays, which the local cable operator’s salespeople then pitched.
One incentive for the various manufacturers was that they could offer a “special” on their product- whether it was a shirt or a CD player or a bottle of ketchup-during the course of the in-store promotion.
“If you’re a Sony rep, one of your motivations is to sell through as much product as you can,” Mr. Ware said, “but the cable affiliates are not necessarily calling on you, the sales rep of the actual manufacturer.”
Instead, the cable salesperson would go only to the retailer. “So they’ve missed an opportunity … to go beyond the typical retail-direct business and go manufacturer-direct, because [manufacturers] have budgets. They must spend dollars to get their products into the stores and actually sell them through the stores.”
BTM conducted three two-day “visits” in each market and “told [the salespeople] who to call, when to call, what to say,” Mr. Ware said. “Unlike retail direct, this is a little longer selling process. You have to learn a new language”-that is, the language of the manufacturers, rather than that of the retailers.
“In this economic time, when budgets are being slashed, this particular approach is pretty much recession-proof,” Mr. Ware said.
It also leads to where the money is. “We’ve learned over the last several years that dollars that have traditionally been placed on media advertising as we know it-radio, TV, print and the like-have been shrinking,” Mr. Ware said.
“Trade and consumer promotions are where 70 percent of all the advertising dollars and marketing dollars are now being budgeted,” Mr. Ware said. Traditionally, around 80 percent of those promotion and sweepstakes dollars have gone to newspapers and radio, while local cable in particular has been under-represented.
TNT’s manufacturer-direct approach aims to capture more of that revenue for the local cable operator. Mr. Ware said next year’s edition of the program may take the sales training into as many as eight more markets, with returns to four or more of the original markets for further training. New markets that are exploring the Turner program include Sacramento, Calif.; Miami; Pittsburgh; Dallas; St. Louis; Phoenix; and Portland, Ore., Mr. Ware said.
One other result of the program so far is that local affiliates are developing their own new-business sales units based on the Turner program, Mr. Ware said. No other cable programming service offers a similar program to its affiliates, he said.