Publishers Weigh Outsourcing to Close Sales Gaps


Beleaguered by the recession, some publishers are starting to talk about outsourcing more of their operations, including even the normally safeguarded area of sales and marketing.

Many publishers routinely use outside sales reps, circulation marketing firms and freelance edit staff. Time Inc. handles many of American Express Publishing’s duties as part of a longstanding management services agreement.

But the outsourcing interest has grown more pronounced of late. TV Guide is using sales consultants after getting rid of top salespeople. Rep firms said they’re fielding interest from midsized publishing companies to farm out sales duties on a bigger scale. “They’re seeing their fixed costs on running an ad sales department and what they’re bringing in rapidly getting closer together,” said James Elliott, president of rep firm James G. Elliott Co.

The trend is creating opportunity for people like Steve McEvoy, a former Hachette Filipacchi Media sales exec who started his own rep firm. McEvoy, for example, has Mochila as a client and is targeting small- to mid-sized publishers. He said one prospective client has one full-time salesperson in New York, down from five 10 years ago, while a group publisher fretted to him that half of his secondary accounts weren’t being covered. “Now, a lot of companies can’t afford to go after those B and C accounts,” he said.

Former Forbes Digital president and CEO Jim Spanfeller, who is pitching digital media expertise to publishers, is finding titles are seeking strategic as well as tactical help. “A lot of folks woke up and said, ‘We don’t have online expertise overall…maybe we need some outside help there,’” he said.

In some cases, publishers have thought about the reverse. Rodale earlier this year looked at taking on back-office jobs for other publishers. Independent shelter mag Dwell is doing that for two clients and talking to others. “It’s because of the economic downturn, and they’re not sure they’re set up to sell big, integrated programs,” said Dwell president and publisher Michela O’Connor Abrams, who declined to identify potential partners.

Still, even those who stand to benefit from publishers’ woes don’t expect magazines to  fundamentally change models, especially when it comes to their sales. “There’s this age-old issue of rep firms,” McEvoy said. “How much attention am I going to get when I hire one? How close to my business can this rep firm get?”

Publishers are about to find out.