How to Sell Online Display Advertising for a Premium

By: Neil Greer

Reflecting on the last 10 years of innovation in the media industry, few other breakthroughs were as fundamental to growth as the advent of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, first through Overture and then made ubiquitous via Google’s Adwords platform.

From the Adwords blog:
“We’ve been making it easier for you to show display ads on the content network – which benefits you (read: the Publisher), because it results in more budgets devoted to advertising on Adsense sites like yours.”

I reference Google to point out how much they believe in focusing on making the advertiser experience seamless. As they state, making things easier for the advertiser unlocks more budget dollars.

In fact, there is a process that is being used more and more in local advertising that is spurring significant growth and profits. If you are not yet selling online display ads using this proven process, you should start right away as those using it have seen two to five times the growth in digital revenue. For illustration, let’s presume your digital pros have garnered the attention of an automobile dealer, and they are preparing their presentation for the meeting.

Step 1: Use the Big 3 – Data, Placement, and Ad Creative
As an online display advertising media buyer in the 1990s, I had the unenviable job of evaluating way too many proposals from ad reps. I was (big surprise) less than forthcoming with my budget numbers and put a lot of pressure on the rep on behalf of my clients. No matter what the pitch, some key presentation points got us in the mood to make a deal.

Segment the Market Data
Some things about advertisers and agencies are time honored and should never be forgotten. One of them is that they are wowed by data and love analytics that show them their marketplace. There are plenty of data providers that do a great job of segmentation of market demographics. Show your client how to make more money, and you will make more as well.

Offer Premium Placement
Make sure the product offered is appropriate to the desired result of the dealer from the campaign. Be careful about offering “run of site” bundled with “premium placement.” If you do it, make sure you break out the difference between the two offerings (remember, we want this client for the long term).

If we are making headway from the publisher side, the dealer’s team is starting to open up about budget availability as they are becoming more enthralled by making money than they are about being coy (media-buyer colleagues forgive me for saying so).

Hook ’em with the Ad Unit
If data is the appetizer and premium placement the wine, then leading spec ad creative is the entrée and presentation that brings it all together for a great meal. Many clients usually go with no more than three examples. We see many clients follow this process:
• Simple Creative 1 – Simple rich-media display ad, but still good. This unit goes with the cheap ad buy.
• Advanced Creative 2 – Multiple tab ad with more interactivity. This unit goes with a medium-size buy.
• Premium Spec Creative – Leading-edge rich-media creative such as a pencil expander, pre-roll video, or sticky note. These units are only available with premium placement and bundled with the proposal CPM.

Step 2: Get the Ad Live, Quick
Advertisers do not like to wait for anything. They also have choices for where to place their online advertising dollars. So the last thing you want to do once you have won a deal with them is lose their enthusiasm due to operational delays.

The key to quick turnaround on display campaigns is having as much of the process in template form before the sale as possible, and a quick process to prepare the creative.

The creative team needs to work in tandem with ad operations to publish the campaign on the site. Following a standardized process for campaign production can be the difference between a 24- to 48-hour turnaround (including advertiser changes and edits) and seven to 10 days. Turning around a campaign in less than two days keeps the advertiser excited. Take seven to 10 days, and you have lost their excitement and invoked advertiser worry (aka buyer’s remorse).

Step 3: Service
Once the premier campaign has been sold and exceeded customer expectations in terms of turnaround, it is time to make sure we have this customer for life. Not an easy task in this economy, and it isn’t all about technology or process. Go deep in their business and adopt or hone your favorite needs-based selling practices. “You gotta show up,” as they say. It makes a difference.

As a media buyer, I absolutely bought more from reps who:
• Understood my clients’ business (and mine as an agency) and educated me about the market
• Understood our measures of advertising success (such as cost per lead)
• Delivered campaign reports ahead of time (and were honest about how the campaign was performing)

The most important thing an advertiser wants within 72 hours of the campaign going live is a campaign report and ideas on how to improve performance. No matter what the report says, deliver it to them, and be prepared to talk about long term vs. short term. Going back to Step 2, you will need a quick process for getting updates to the ad live on your site. When changes need to be made, real time is still a little slow from the advertiser’s perspective. Everyone on the team, including sales, creative, and ad ops, needs to be on the same page on this issue.

Get proactive and partner with the client. Budget ahead of time to have some impressions (or additional value via an e-mail campaign or other medium) in reserve to balance the scales in case the campaign needs an additional push. Remember, we want this client for the long term.

Publishers that follow the above process are yielding CPMs in the $25 to $40 range and are taking more of that revenue to the bottom line. If you would like examples from publishers implementing this type of premium ad-selling strategy, write to me at:

Neil Greer is CEO and co-founder of, a provider of rich-media solutions to more than 450 publishers in the United States. His column, Go Digital, focuses on sharing experiences that aid in solving key strategic and operational issues facing publishers as they grow their digital operations.

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