The Los Angeles Times: Leading Sales Transformation to Outperform Competitors
Historically, The Los Angeles Times advertising sales team enjoyed great success as a powerful marketing platform in California and certain other US markets like Chicago and New York. But when digital options began to proliferate rapidly in the late ‘90s, revenue declined along with margins.
The newspaper quickly began prototyping digital alternatives to combine with or replace print advertising for customers, and a new suite of offerings was prepared. But for a sales team who had only sold advertising space in the past, it would mean an entirely new approach to the market and a steep learning curve.
Ara Norwood, who led the Sales Development function said, “A sales transformation effort at one of the largest newspapers in the country is no easy task and Scott Edinger helped us move from a transactional sales organization to a consultative one.”
Ara and Scott collaborated on a plan to make a fundamental shift in how the sales team worked with customers. This transition would take them from simply filling requirements on advertising needs, to proactively pursuing opportunities where sellers could evaluate a client’s overall marketing plans and determine how print and digital fit in to their strategy. This effort, as Ara said, “would focus on creating value versus just selling ad space,” and was a key initiative to restore growth for the business. From the formulation of the strategy, creation of implementation plans and programs and a new compensation metric, along with new management systems and coaching guides, most of the transformation was completed in the first 10 months.
In 1998 and 1999 the LA Times was able to halt the decline in profit margins and hold at a very respectable 15%. The margin performance helped position the LA Times for acquisition at a price of $6.5B by the Tribune Company (Chicago Tribune) in 2000 as market consolidation continued in the newspaper business.