How To Keep Local Advertisers For Life


The day I committed to asking for local direct annual contracts was the beginning of my road to becoming the top biller in my market. And I learned how to do that by paying attention to the small advertising agencies that were stealing my clients. These agency principals were not creative geniuses by any means. But they were better at asking for and getting long-term contracts than the media salespeople. That was a fact back then, and it’s still a fact today.

Here’s how to get started. Use a headline to get an appointment. “Hi, my name is Paul, and I just wanted to see if we could meet and talk about your advertising” just wasn’t working for me. So I’d say things like, “Hello, we noticed a huge mistake that your competitor is making in his advertising effort, and we can show you how to take advantage of that error.” Or “We’ve noticed that every time you advertise, you’re always offering to knock 20 to 30 percent off your price. We don’t think you have to do that anymore. In fact, we have an idea that could bring that 30 percent back to your bottom line.” We made the headlines about the advertiser’s needs.

We came up with a weekly schedule (modified for long holiday weekends) and a good creative plan for each client. The proposal is usually no longer than one page. Our creative strategy and an outline of the weekly spot schedule are included on that one page. The contract is attached, with a place to sign highlighted with a red X. The moment the presentation is completed, you hand the client the contract and a nice pen ($15-$20). Then you say, “Let’s do it.” Then wait to handle objections. When they sign, they keep the pen.

Does the client sign every time? Of course not. The client will sign only when she is 100 percent convinced that your plan is better than her plan. If they say no this time, what do you ask for the next time you see them? You got it. Another long-term contact.

The point is, the only way to get rich in the advertising sales business is to always ask for the long-term contract. If you don’t, then every month you start at zero. So take the reins. Never ask the client to help with the creative message. Clients aren’t good at that. Also, never ask the client what their budget is. They’ll lowball you every time. Show them what the creative is, and tell them what the weekly budget is. The worst they can say is no. I’ve only known of two media salespeople who were actually murdered for asking for too much money. So your odds are good.

In your meeting with the client, use your proposal as your notes (he who has the agenda controls the meeting). The proposal also serves as a tool for drawing out objections.

The proposal also shows the client that you put original thought and effort into your presentation. Presentations should never be about ratings or format or some program. Everything should be focused on the long-term creative idea.

Your cost for the annual proposal should be expressed as a weekly number for 52 weeks. Let the client do the math. Your weekly cost should also be written in the smallest font on the page. That will help keep the client focused on the idea, not the price.

Once you have that annual contract, you can concentrate on cementing your relationship with the client. In other words, every time the client sees you it’s a treat, because you’re not hitting them up for money. Instead you’re there to present new information, to drop off concert tickets, or to physically help them out.

Here are some examples of experiences I’ve had. I’ve helped a florist deliver flowers on Valentine’s Day. I was their only vendor that ever offered to help them on their busiest day of the year. I was invited to attend a client’s Christmas party. I said, “No, I won’t be your guest, but I’ll tend bar.” They loved it. One day I was in the right place at precisely the right time, and I saved a client’s life. I helped keep watch at a pen show for one of my office product companies. I actually caught someone stealing a $350 Mont Blanc pen. The client called me “The Sheriff” after that.

That same client even sent me a thank you letter after he sold his business. I still have it. Part of it reads, “Paul, thank you for helping us become millionaires.” I shook that envelope, looking for my check. There wasn’t one. But I was happy because they paid me like clockwork for nearly 20 years. We are still friends to this day.

Many, many salespeople have come around to this way of thinking about asking for long-term local direct business. You should too.


  1. Thanks Paul. We’ve written long term business for over 45 years and I am always looking for new ideas to make that job easier and your article has some solid advice! Over 70% of our business is long term contracts! We just put to bed in 2016 our 7th year in a row of record sales at our stations!

  2. My apologies, salesguy. I should have been clearer. Under “presenting new information” I should have emphasized that I’m always interested in showing them new opportunities that might help them create new customers.

  3. It is my belief, Quentin, that most of radio’s practitioners are experiencing a state of abject denial. As such, wild assertions and attacks on those of us who challenge the status quo are considered valid responses.

    Besides, the (below) vitriol is not about my agreeing with Paul that much better “creative” is necessary in a salesperson’s kit; but that I have, at other times, been extremely critical of any number of elements of the banal and superficial practices of contemporary radio – a medium and a group of people that NEED far more than they are getting. This also applies to audiences and advertisers.
    But, forms of delusion, denial and distortion being practiced amongst radio’s “faithful” should be enough to deter most from making any challenges or inquiries.

  4. I’m confused by the verbal (written?) abuse of Mr. Robinson? He makes a good point regarding “good creative.” I don’t know how many times I drive down the highway and hear cliche after cliche on a radio ad! My favorite? “Conveniently located.” I knew where this particular business was truly located, and it WASN’T “convenient.” Come on people. Does commenting on good creative step on toes, or something? Or do all you people work together and this is just inter-office ribbing?

  5. I don’t like playing “mind games” with clients. I want people who want to run and pay for their schedules. And ad agencies aren’t the enemy. They can give longer and larger orders than the client directly.

  6. I suggest a search for someone who will demonstrate deference and/or “make nice” be conducted elsewhere.
    Radio’s leadership has taken the medium to a place that is so anemic, they have to be taught, encouraged and cajoled to get back into the game. When that doesn’t work – and it hasn’t so far – harsh criticisms and newer strategies are, in this case, critically required AND appropriate.
    As a party guest, however, I can be quite delightful – and sometimes interesting. 🙂
    Paul, meanwhile, is still correct in his making the case for much better creative as an integral part of any sales proposal.
    Who among the leadership of over a thousand and more stations, I wonder, can or has made that a priority…?

  7. Canadians generally have a reputation for being gracious, accommodating and polite. You, sir, overstep your welcome and are a bit of a bore. I guess even some up there need to be told.

  8. My comment was in reference to “creative”.
    Paul has a handle on that and is to be congratulated.
    Hallway monitors are just impudent, uninformed, pushy and silly.

  9. Paul, to his credit and because he is a well-rounded radio pro, also mentions “and a good creative plan for each client”.
    Without that component, a rep is still just selling time – and if they are lucky, ratings.

  10. A very well-written article, Paul. My compliments.

    May I share a point that differs somewhat from your assertion that “once you have an annual contract, you can concentrate on cementing your relationship..because you’re not hitting them up for money.”?

    My experience has been that the long-term, or annual, is the beginning of the selling, not the end. Now, with the annual, we have a business relationship, the trust is formed or is forming and I can present periodic monthly up-sells as his business flow permits (and demands) and the station offers various programming opportunities he may be interested in. Nothing wrong with 2 good ideas (or 3 or 4 or 7).
    The goal is to control the client’s entire ad budget. This is often best accomplished in a series of ad sales over the year, starting with the “annual”. I was never there to “take his money”, as you put it. I merely offer a variety of ways to promote his business; the clients decides which to buy-always.

  11. Thank you sir for sharing your insight and expertise! For someone like me who is new to sales, I spent 35 years in programming, the article was very helpful!


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