A true pioneer of digital transformation, many would argue he could be considered one of the founding fathers of digital media sales in North America.
Jeff Folckemer has logged decades of experience in media sales before taking up his post as Vendasta Executive Vice President. In this article, Folckemer provides his take on the foundation of a successful transition to digital for any media organization.
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He shares a first-hand account of the strategies that helped him grow digital from the ground up at leading global media company Hearst, as well as his recommendations for where media sales leaders should be setting their sights in 2023.
A start in healthcare and tech legislation
Folckemer got his start in healthcare where he began his career with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York. During his time at Blue Cross, he recognized a problem and boldly decided to jump in and take responsibility to find a solution.
“We were taking in a lot of healthcare claims on paper. I partnered with a friend of mine and we decided to come up with a way where we could take these healthcare claims from all insurance companies through one format,” Folckemer recounts.
“We built the front end and then we built the back end that would translate and submit in the format we needed.”
After this first foray in electronic data interchange (EDI), Folckemer would go on to lobby the United States congress for policy changes to standardize formatting in the industry across the board. From there, Folckemer would move on to co-found another tech venture, Latpon Health Systems, which later sold to WebMD in the late nineties.
Each career opportunity a stepping stone to the next, Folckemer found himself at the beginning of a decades-long career in digital solution delivery to the small and medium business (SMB) market. In 1999, he accepted a role at international media company Hearst overseeing their transition from traditional media sales advertising formats to digital offerings.
“I came to Hearst to be their chief information officer, to run the digital transformation of Yellow Pages and newspapers. And once I got there, I was there for more than 20 years. I helped take the print Yellow Pages into the digital world.”
The media sales landscape in a nutshell
Since the start of his career in the media space, Folckemer has watched the launch and growth of advertising giants like Google and Facebook. He says local publishers and broadcasters have largely failed to adjust their revenue models to match the new digital landscape.
“Traditional media has good content but has a failed plan on how to disperse that content into what I call the ‘next generation of marketing.’ Most newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations are far behind technology,” Folckemer suggests.
“Newspaper ads used to have margins of 70 to 90 percent, and that's changed. Advertisers realize that print doesn't reach the audience that it used to, but the publication’s websites do. Because website advertising, or display ads, don't carry the same amount of revenue that you can get from the former print ads, media sales teams need to diversify into foundational product sets like reviews, listing management, social, SEO, search, and end-to-end websites to make it work.”
Folckemer says there is hope, however, for media providers to realize true digital transformation, the concept serving as one of the driving reasons he joined Vendasta in the first place.
“I think the future is in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) arena, the marketplace and the scale that Vendasta can bring to solving the challenges media sales teams are facing.
“It's really about supporting the SMB. They're the ones that actually make the economy move. It's not these large scale big-box stores; it's these small and medium businesses. They employ, they keep the local community going, they invest in the local community.”
The concept of democratizing digital and leveling the playing field for SMBs to compete is one Folckemer believes media companies can get behind. Helping local businesses improve their online footprint with digital solutions for broadcast tv companies and other publishers will be the way forward.
The future of media sales will rely on a digital-first mindset
When asked if media companies can recover if they’ve been off to a slow start adopting digital, Folckemer replies with a resounding “100 percent, yes!”
The key to their success or failure, he claims, will rely on the mindset they are in.
“Many media companies want to go out there and build the digital solution infrastructure themselves. That's probably the biggest mistake they make.”
Instead, more important factors for a successful transition to digital should include:
- Partnering with a trusted technology provider that has laid the groundwork
- Bringing that solution in house, training it, and integrating it with existing processes
- Adjusting your hiring protocols to support your new goal
I'm not saying you have to hire the younger generation. You have to hire talent with a digital-first mindset. If you get that type of hire, then you can bolt on your traditional offerings instead of the other way around. You have to reverse that entire playbook. As soon as you do that, you're already ahead of where some of these larger established traditional media companies are.
In addition to a shift in mindset, Folckemer also says properly incentivizing digital is important to the future of media sales.
The fact is if your media sales team isn’t getting paid more to sell digital and they feel there are no performance flags being raised, they’ll take the path of least resistance and continue to sell what they’ve always sold.
“The one thing that I always recommend is if you have 50 sales people, give them each a product or service that they can sell to anyone they want and they get to keep 100 percent of the profits just for that one digital item. It gets them used to talking about one particular package or item, and they get to make a ton of money on it. It gets them to understand the customers, because when they start talking about digital to a customer, all of a sudden the customers will open the floodgates with questions they can be prepared to answer with more solutions,” Folckemer says.
Clawing back advertising spend from the big guys
The concept that radio, TV, and newspaper publishers solutions are becoming outdated simply isn’t true. According to Folckemer, they should, however, be viewed as one channel, among a new and growing list.
“Instead of where you were 20 years ago, having one, two, three, or four channels, now you have hundreds of them,” Folckemer says, referencing Vendasta’s marketplace of more than 250 digital solutions to sell.
With a future of digital media sales shaping up to be a competitive one, it’s an area where publishers need to leverage their advantages as a local media company.
According to media analyst Gordon Borrell of Borrell Associates inc., media companies have been managing to hold onto only about 10 percent of advertising dollars being spent in their local markets. The rest is being gobbled up by Google and Facebook, among others. Encouragingly however, Borrell projects a 12-percent share for media companies by the end of this year, the first gain in many years.
“Advertisers definitely want somebody who they trust and they think that trust belongs in the local market. Traditional media companies have also lowered their rates, and they're bundling the digital product set with their traditional media set,” Folckemer says.
Where media sales leaders should be setting their sights in 2023
Helping local businesses with their online presence, specifically setting up an ecommerce website, will be one of the strongest ways for media companies to gain a foothold in the digital solutions market in 2023.
SMBs rushed to get online at the onset of the pandemic, but many still haven’t taken advantage of those websites to serve as digital storefronts for their businesses.
“I would say in 2023, probably the most important thing would be to make sure that you have a website, that you control that website, so it's not on Wix or Shopify, and that it’s fully ecommerce capable.”
Folckemer says even if it’s only a few products or it gives customers the ability to book appointments online, media companies should support their clients in achieving full ecommerce capability.
“Imagine you're a brick-and-mortar store and you sell one product. Setting up and building a store with everything will cost you $500,000, right? Setting up an online store to sell one or two products will cost you only a few hundred dollars, but it's like opening up a brand-new brick-and-mortar store. You're going out and expanding your reach from just your area.
“I think SMBs get intimidated because they think it's a big deal or they don't understand it. The reality is you can get help to set up a good website with end-to-end ecommerce and get notified when people drop by your store. It's got all the tax tables, it's got all the shipping companies. It's not that complicated. Every single business should be online doing ecommerce with at least one product or service.”