Blog | Walsworth

Growing Ad Rates without Shrinking Revenue

Written by Andrew Shackelford | October 16, 2013

Back in the day, it was a given — with every new calendar year came another ad rate increase. You could usually budget for 2% over the previous year, perhaps more if you were aggressive. You’d cover costs and then some.


Not so much.

Reducing costs and fighting for share of the advertising budget can seem like a full-time proposition for any size association.

Yet a recent Ad Age study found 18% of magazine advertisers planned an increase in spending over the coming year. Savvy publishers will go after that share with increased ad rates by getting buy-in from key supporters, basing the discussion in terms of increased value, and consistently marketing their publications effectively.

Get Buy-in from Key Advertisers
Assuming your advertising buying season is more traditional (Q3 and Q4 of a calendar year), communicate in advance with your current advertisers that your new rate card will be effective with the new calendar year.

The main strategy is to offer your current advertisers their existing rate (“rate protect” them) if they agree to sign an insertion order for the coming year before the new rates are published. This strategy provides them time to plan the increase into their budgets and differentiates you from the Herb Tarlek brand of hard-sell salesman.

Start this process first with your top two or three advertisers. Communicate with them in person and include your key association executives. Offer them favorable payment terms and bundle the marketing package with plenty of spiffs. Allow plenty of time to get their support and buy-in. Use insight gained from those conversations to present and secure commitments from your other advertisers.

It’s all about the Value you Add
If possible, base your rate-increase discussion in terms of the increased value that you’ll be offering to your advertisers. Instead of saying, “It just costs more,” consider the upside of boasting, “We’re excited to offer you new ways to engage the attention (and marketing budgets) of our members.”

There are many ways your publication could add value. Here are a few of the more common strategies:

  1. An enhanced environment (magazine redesign, editorial upgrade) to showcase their brand;
  2. Increased engagement with existing members through other media (mobile apps, online page-turning magazines, content aggregation, social media);
  3. Additional exposure to existing members through higher publication frequency or circulation;
  4. Additional exposure to new members through additional publication copies at key association events.

If you are unable to find a value-add and you are asked for the basis of the increase, you can probably locate and point to:

  • Length of time without a rate increase;
  • Yearly cost increases for your organization (creative, production, mailing, digital, etc.);
  • Advertising rate increases at competitive publications;
  • Advertising rate increases at other same-industry state or national association publications;
  • Initiatives from management to increase profit.

Consistently Market your Publication Effectively
All successful association ad sales representatives I have worked alongside, managed, or partnered with in the past two decades have one thing in common: They consistently spend time only with those activities and prospects that offer the best opportunity to maximize revenue.

Successful reps use mass marketing vehicles like direct mail and event attendance as lead generation tools. Once they identify and qualify a good lead, they’ll add them to their “keyman” list.

The keyman list is typically around 25 prospects that already advertise in the industry and should be in your magazine. The sales reps will use a combination of in-person presentations, phone calls, direct mail, industry networking and event marketing to nurture the leads until they can close a sale and bring a keyman list member on as a new advertiser.

Where does a keyman list come from? The best source is close at hand: your associate, or vendor/supplier members. These are the businesses that have joined your association specifically to market to your active members. Another good source for a keyman list is magazines published and events produced by state associations within your industry.

With some advance planning that includes stakeholder buy-in, effective value proposition, and consistent marketing, you can help increase ad rates without shrinking revenue.

Contact Walsworth if you have questions about how to grow ad rates without shrinking revenue. We want to help you be successful.