Cracking the digital revenue code with Todd HandyBy Domenica Martinello
Trying to figure out how to monetize digital is one thing. In fact, creating a digital transformation strategy that drives digital revenue is a buzzworthy topic at most media companies.
But recognizing importance is not the same as executing a plan. And that could be why few media businesses are succeeding at true digital leadership.
In our recent webinar with digital leader Todd Handy, we discussed his experiences as Beasley Media Group’s first Chief Digital Officer (CDO), how he grew their digital revenue by over 30 percent annually, tips on incentivizing world-class digital sales teams, and more.
Handy has worked in sales roles since 1995, and he’s specifically worked for publishing groups, media tech companies, marketing agencies, and the Local Media Association in VP and Board Member capacities for over a decade.
Plus, he’s a seasoned and engaging keynote speaker. Here’s a summary of some of the questions Handy answered on digital leadership, digital sales, and executing a digital transformation strategy that produces big results.
1. What was Beasley Media Group looking for when they created the role of CDO?
Handy became Beasley Media Group’s first CDO three years ago in 2019. By the time he moved on in 2022, he had helped them drive digital revenue and grow it to about 15 percent of their total earnings in just under three years.
It’s a staggering achievement of digital leadership, especially when you consider Beasley makes about $250 million in revenue per year across its 62 radio stations and other properties in hugely differing markets throughout the U.S.
When Handy joined Beasley Media Group as their inaugural CFO, they were looking for someone who could:
- Drive a company-wide commitment to digital goals
- Define and guide the digital initiatives
- Break the digital transformation strategy down to actionable tactics
- Develop and build on their digital product set
- Keep the team abreast of the ever-changing digital landscape
- As you can see, the laundry list was way more robust than “boost digital sales”.
2. What value does a CDO bring and how do they help execute a digital transformation strategy?
The value a CDO brings to an organization is huge. Why?
Handy’s answer is simple.
“One of the things a Chief Digital Officer is really there for is to be the person focused solely on digital,” says Handy. That’s the key to digital sales—and digital transformation.
“You have other folks in the business that are focused on so many other things. Especially if this is a traditional media business, you have folks focused on newspapers, TV, radio, directory, IT, finance…But with a Chief Digital Officer you have someone thinking only about digital all day, every day.
And often that thinking translates into the question, ‘what does our digital product set look like?’
Before Handy arrived, Beasley’s digital solution offering was not robust enough. Prior to his arrival, the company lacked:
- Branded content (native ads/sponsored content)
- Online business presence tools
- A more developed Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) offering
- A clear partner strategy to deal with vendor clutter and redundancies
However, with no single-minded leader to drive digital sales and ground their business in digital, it’s easy to see how it’d be hard to drive initiatives forward and expand digital product offerings.
“What I’m really proud of is that, over the three years I was there, we got Beasley to 20 percent revenue in digital. That was the goal for 2022,” says Handy. And the goal was accomplished in part to his digital leadership.
Handy’s digital leadership laid the foundation for a successful digital transformation strategy that included:
- Creating a very cohesive partner strategy
- Working with the right partners and bringing in the right solutions
- Putting together a solid product offering for advertisers
3. How does the CDO fit into the landscape of an org and work with digital sales leaders?
“A Chief Digital Officer is almost the ‘Digital Secretary of State’,” Handy quips. “That person needs to be out and about, working in the markets, working with the market leadership, the market managers, the director of sales, the general sales managers, the local finance controllers, and more.”
In other words, the CDO needs to be working with all stakeholders, from digital sales reps and beyond, to drive digital revenue.
Why? To continue to provide a shared vision of what the digital transformation strategy is, and reinforcing that strategy at all times.
What’s more, as much as CDO will fit into the entire business ecosystem to accomplish shared goals, they also need to be a disruptor.
“They continue to disrupt the core traditional business, and drive what needs to be the growth business, which is digital.” Does that mean that digital needs to win all the time and have all the resources? Handy says no.
Nevertheless, if the CDO is committed to true digital leadership, Handy says that they need to always be pushing the envelope and advocating for digital growth opportunities. And though the CDO is the number one digital spokesperson, they need to ensure that everyone in the business is aware and onboard.
“Whoever is on the team needs to be able to know what our offering is and what our digital transformation strategy is. It needs to get all the way out to the end of the row so that everyone is thinking from a digital perspective,” says Handy.
Every sales rep should consider themselves a digital sales rep.
4. What are the key elements of an effective digital transformation strategy?
In 2021 which local media is showing the greatest digital leadership, with the highest digital revenue as a percentage of total media? Radio, TV, newspapers, Yellow Pages?
The answer might surprise you: Newspapers, with 34.7 percent.
Why do newspapers lead the pack (Forbes)?
At the core, newspapers have been around the longest and got disrupted before radio and TV did and got a lot better at it over time. Because they had to.
“One of the other things about newspapers, especially as it relates to music and radio, is that websites from a newspaper company are much more of a destination than perhaps music sites are for a radio company,” says Handy.
Thus, newspapers have the audience, the traffic, and the inventory to drive digital revenue.
At the end of the day, no matter the segment or vertical, Handy looks at:
- Who are the people? Do we currently have the right people? Does our team have deep digital knowledge and someone steering the ship with a grasp of digital leadership principles?
- What is the process? Process is different in digital and more difficult. Are your digital processes definable, measurable, repeatable, and adherable? Can you hold the team accountable to your process?
- What is the product? Because we’re talking about ad-supported media, if the advertiser doesn’t get the ROI that they need, you’re in trouble. Does the product perform and meet the needs of advertisers (clicks, online sales, foot traffic, etc.)?
Every digital sales leader needs to think about these three Ps, plus ppc solutions.
5. How can digital sales leaders drive digital revenue in their local markets?
We now know newspapers are ahead on digital revenue as a percentage of total revenue, but media companies are generally behind in capturing more digital dollars in their local markets.
In fact, only 4 percent of companies are getting more than 20 percent of their local attainable digital revenue, according to Borrell Associates.
How can digital leadership make improvements to this percentage?
“We need to be nimble enough to go after a different advertiser set,” says Handy. “That includes a separate compensation plan, a separate digital sales team, and separate revenue goals.”
“We need to think about selling non-traditional products to non-traditional advertisers—non-radio products to non-radio advertisers, and so on. To put it plainly, to get different folks calling on different advertisers doing different things and selling different products.”
To execute this, Handy suggests bringing in a digital direct team that is not calling on the traditional stable of advertisers or dealing with the same constraints as teams bringing in traditional revenue. Ho
“This way, you are able to bring in a lower average order value and still be able to comp the seller appropriately. So you bring in good sellers and get them some residual commissions as well to go after longer-tail revenue.”
The digital direct team would report directly to the digital leadership team.
Implementing a digital transformation strategy to crack the digital revenue code
In a recent webinar featuring Robert Walker-Smith of LMA BloomLab, Walker-Smith made a great point about digital versus traditional.
Often sales leaders think one cannibalizes the other, but his view is that it really should be complimentary. Handy aligns with this philosophy. Of course, it can still be difficult to strike the right balance. How can you go about it at your media organizations?
“Just because I have digital in my title, doesn’t mean you’re ever going to hear me say ‘don’t sell traditional media.’ Because the truth of the matter is this: we can find our audience in various places, and we need to meet our audiences where they are.”
When you think about reach and frequency, you need multiple media. But sometimes different media is meant for different outcomes. Is it upper funnel or lower funnel? Is it branding, call-to-action, or direct response?
Here are some final tips from Handy.
- You have to get your rules of engagement right. Some digital sellers and traditional sellers might overlap or compete. If you have no channel conflict, you don’t have the coverage you need. Solid rules of engagement will keep things on track.
- Have a CRM or a system of record to maintain your rules of engagement and sellers can track their activities.
- Traditional sellers need to be selling digital solutions as much as digital sales rep or anyone else.
- Define the stages of the sales process to build a team of superstars. What is prospecting? What qualifies when a prospect becomes a lead? How does a lead become an opportunity?
- What gets measured gets managed, what gets rewarded gets repeated.
- Take CRM data, put it into a dashboard, create a scoreboard for everyone to see, and get people intrinsically self-motivated.
Though we tried to be comprehensive, make sure to tune into Handy's full on-demand webinar for even more insights on his proven digital transformation strategy, as well as hear audience questions from industry insiders.