How to Help Your Advertisers Understand the Importance of Marketing Amidst COVID-19


It’s been rough out there in sales land during this health crisis. And yet, web traffic is spiking for media companies. So, what do we do to leverage that and take a bad situation and make it better for our advertisers?

Let’s give ourselves some historical context. In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a paper entitled, “The American Crisis.” And he emphasized the idea that “we must lead, we must follow, or we must get out of the way.” Who would’ve thought I’d be bringing this back up during this world crisis and the crisis here in America in 2020?

As media companies and media salespeople, we’re in a unique position to either lead, follow, or just get out of the way. Consider this: some of us are actually going to roll forward and work hard to help our advertisers survive. We’re not only going to help them survive this current situation, but we’re going to help them thrive when this is all said and done.

Please understand this, though. I’m not making light of this situation. We have people out there who’ve lost their lives, their family members, celebrities that have lost their lives, and so on.

But what I’m trying to do is make sure that we know how to work with our customers, our advertisers, to help them understand that when times are good, they should advertise. And when times are bad, they must advertise. They’ve got to dig deep and find the money.

We have historical evidence about businesses that have gone through crises—albeit, not an outbreak of a virus. But there are a lot of similarities between different types of crises we’ve been through before, which have been primarily financial in nature, and this one. And in almost all cases, historical evidence points to that fact that it’s more cost-effective to stay the course with advertising during a crisis than it is to make dramatic changes to a marketing plan.

During this crisis, I like to consider the three types of advertisers I am dealing with. That way, I can handle their specific types of objections in an efficient and ethical way. Because all three of these types are going to come at this situation in a different way. My hope is that this information will help you in your sales efforts, as well.

These are the three types of advertisers I need to consider, as a salesperson:

“Slam on the Breaks” Advertisers

They’re usually not following the logical path. They’re operating from FOMO (fear of missing out) to drive them into a buying decision. And now they’ve gone into fear mode, FONO (fear of not obeying). They think that every advertiser is cancelling, and they fear that if they don’t obey, they’re not doing the right thing.

So, for Slam on the Breaks kind of people, logic is not going to win them over. What we have to do is explain to them that not everyone is making changes to their advertising schedules and their marketing plans. And we have to explain that, historically speaking, we’ve found that when advertisers stay the course, it’s almost always more cost effective than jumping in and jumping out.

“Wait and See” Advertisers

These folks are generally more logical. These are the people to whom we can present a relatively compelling case of why they should stay the course with their advertising.

I call the case we can present the “NASCAR effect.” The analogy goes like this: In racing, the moment the driver comes off the track and hits the pits is the moment that, if they’re not careful, they’ll get a lap down.

Then, if they stay in the pits too long—they stay off that advertising track too long—they’ll lose 2-3 laps. And even Dale Earnhardt wasn’t coming back from three laps down to win a NASCAR race.

So, I use that analogy with advertisers that are “Wait and See” kind of people.

“Carpe Diem” (Seize the Day) Advertisers

People that fit into this group might say, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” While that may be particularly harsh thinking, I don’t find that most Carpe Diem folks go to that extreme—and yet they do know how to stay the course and come out on top.

The Carpe Diem folks see this crisis as an opportunity to gain market share. They see it as an opportunity to put themselves above and in front of other businesses. Take, for instance, an example of the behavior of companies during the Great Depression. At that time, Post Cereal backed off their advertising and then Kellogg’s took over.

Then, when you look at the Recession of the 1980s, all of a sudden Honda and Volkswagen decided to back off on their advertising, and Toyota took over.

If you look as recently as the Great Recession we went through in the time period of 2006-2009, Domino’s used the opportunity to seize the day. They took the crisis and turned it into an opportunity—and gained significant market share as a result.

Companies that survive and thrive throughout the hard times in history are led by those Carpe Diem kind of people out there. And those are the folks we should be focusing on right now in our sales efforts.

Now consider this: it’s my advice to you personally, and I’ve touched half a billion in media sales over the past 30 years, that we salespeople also have to ask ourselves: “What can we do to become ‘Carpe Diem’ folks, as well?”

How can we take a bad situation and make it better? We’ll never make it good or make it “make sense.” But what can we do to face the current situation like Carpe Diem people?

This is where I offer three pieces of advice for you (what I call the “3-by-3 Challenge”) to help you as a salesperson, once you’ve considered the three types of customers and prospects you’ll deal with. This is a tactic you can use to survive and thrive in the current situation.

The 3-by-3 Challenge

What the 3-by-3 Challenge is all about is taking three promising categories and finding three Carpe Diem-type advertisers per category. So, three categories, and three advertisers per category.

What you do is work the 3-by-3 grid and you find Carpe Diem kind of folks. So, for example, in local advertising markets we’re seeing that home improvement is still going strong. Maybe we focus there for Carpe Diem kinds of business owners and marketing decision-makers.

Another category that’s currently doing well: insurance brokers. We’re seeing that people are now talking to them because they’re actually at home and have the ability to do so. And so insurance brokers would be people we might be able to work with.

Once you work your 3-by-3 Challenge and identify your Carpe Diem buyers, how do you deal with any objections they may present? Again, I break things down into threes when I’m selling, and I find that to be very effective. So, let me give you a three-step process for dealing with your Carpe Diem types of customers, as well as the Slam on the Breaks and Wait and See types that you will inevitably encounter.

This is what my three-step process looks like:

First, I make sure I empathize with them without getting into a debate. And I’m going to make sure that I don’t get so low that I’m at eye level, because a lot of times that means me getting into the gutter with them. And I don’t want to do that.

Second, I present some historical data. I might give examples of Domino’s, of Post Cereal, of Toyota. Now, you might be thinking, “This is a health crisis. Not a financial crisis.” Well, friends, it is a health crisis that has turned into a financial crisis. Plain and simple.

And third, I’m going to give them some ideas they can use. Whether it’s revenue ideas, or changing their ad copy, or whatever I can give them that may help them during this time. I’m going to work with them in a detailed way to help them succeed.

In closing, this is a time for us to help our advertisers and customers survive this crisis, and to potentially help them thrive.

We’re either going to lead right now, we’re going to follow, or we’re going to have to get out of the way. I’m here to tell you, we’re in a unique position to lead. Because when times are good, our clients should advertise. And when times are bad, they must advertise.

Ryan Dohrn is the founder of media sales training firm Brain Swell Media and has trained more than 20,000 ad sales reps in seven countries. His 28-year media sales and marketing career includes leadership roles at PennWell Publishing, Morris Publishing, Disney/ABC TV, Sinclair Broadcasting and the New York Times Co.  He is an Emmy Award winner, business book author and has been featured in USA Today and on He currently works monthly with more than 50 media companies and their related sales and management teams.


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