After learning the ins and outs of magazine ad sales for two decades, Bobbie Halfin figured it would take longer than two weeks to master the online world.
But in early 1997, just a fortnight into her job as vice president of ad sales at ADSmart, after leaving Parade magazine, a headhunter called to see if she’d like to guide the Internet baby steps of a major marketer.
“They had heard I was good at running a Web media business. At that point, I guess, two weeks of experience was enough,” she says, laughing.
Flattered, but in no position to chuck her new job out the window, she declined. In January 1998, though, a year into her “new adventure” on the Web, she did leave the Andover, Mass.-based company, taking the top position at New York-based WinStar New Media’s burgeoning WinStar Interactive unit, where she drew on her experience to orchestrate a new model for online ad sales.
“I guess I felt like a bit of an alien at first [at ADSmart],” says Halfin, 52, WinStar’s president and chief executive officer. “I went from managing a sales staff that was selling a page for over $600,000 to doing $5,000 buys.”
The network model for online sales was frustrating, too. “Everybody there was from a technology perspective … Their idea at the time was to rep a couple hundred sites, and only a few [of the sites] were major branding players.”
Halfin’s experience at Parade, Rolling Stone, Sassy and McCall’s convinced her that for branded properties of a certain size, there needed to be a better way. At WinStar, she and her team–all of whom had similar branding backgrounds–looked at the direction online ad sales companies like DoubleClick and 24/7 Media were going, and decided “almost to do the opposite.”
Instead of repping a network of sites, WinStar handles only about 21 branded Web properties, including Bloomberg Web Networks, Intellicast, PGA Tour and Seventeen, developing a custom model of marketing programs and banner and sponsorship sales for each.
The system helps sites keep their branding visibility clear, Halfin says, and the personal attention allows
WinStar’s reps to “know as much about the content, marketing and [opportunities for] sponsorship and integration as if they worked for the site.”
The hands-on approach isn’t just talk, either, as WinStar’s employees found out last year when they created Christmas98.com, a consumer-oriented site built in part to give the staff insights into Web development. “Everyone on my staff really had to see what has to be done. It greatly expands your patience level,” Halfin says.
With the company opening a fifth office this year, Halfin can now feel like the real online veteran that headhunter was looking for two years ago. “We like having the different model and having it work,” she says.
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