AAN has been experiencing budget problems since the new fiscal year began on Oct. 1, 2002. Our AAN CAN national classified network, which provides about 70% of the association’s revenue, has suffered a severe slowdown.
For the first two years of its existence, AAN CAN grew rapidly with very little internal sales effort on our part. The first year it generated $600,000 in revenue, which basically doubled the size of the association, and in FY02, which ended Sept. 30, it was up to $880,000.
About half the ads were sold by a few classified representatives at AAN papers, and the other half just came in over the transom.
AAN CAN allowed us to do many things: We added a legal hotline; hosted two classified conferences; built a new Web site; created marketing materials for AAN members and exhibited at several trade shows; hired a couple of highly skilled, experienced employees; made several $2,500 diversity internship grants and made a commitment to provide funding for the Academy for Alternative Journalism; reduced our inventory of AAN Advantage “donated ads” from eight half-pages to two; and provided one free registration to last year’s annual convention.
Then, when the new fiscal year began, sales fell off a cliff. For the first four months of FY03, we’ve been running 40-75% below last year’s weekly sales.
The economy is bad, but it’s not that bad. So why are sales down so far? My theory is that we got fat and happy and assumed it would go on forever. When I say “we” I really mean “me” since it’s my responsibility to make sure these things happen. We never sold any ads from the national office in Washington, and, since Adam Ebbin left AAN last summer, we haven’t done enough to make sure that every AAN publisher and classified manager and classified rep knows about the program and understands that it is in their best interest to sell ads into the network
Only a handful of classified reps have been selling the ads. Can you imagine how much money the program could generate if every one of the 500 or so classified reps employed at AAN papers knew about the program and were actively pitching it?
I’m not suggesting that sales reps should start making cold calls on behalf of AAN CAN. Rather, I’m talking about ensuring that every rep is empowered to recognize which of their current clients are potentially interested in purchasing a regional or national ad, and to seize the opportunity to upsell them into the AAN CAN network.
So why it is it in your interest to sell the ads? For two reasons:
1. We pay a commission of 25%. That means that every time a rep at your paper misses an opportunity to sell a regional or national ad — every time a rep at your paper fails to mention the program to a client who may want to buy a classified ad in more than one paper — you are leaving money on the table. And that money can add up. Last year, Independent Weekly made over $31,000 in AAN CAN commissions, Phoenix New Times took in more than $23,000, NewCity made over $13,000 and Tucson Weekly’s total exceeded $11,500. It may not be enough to make or break your paper, but it’s low-hanging fruit and there’s no reason in the world why you should walk by it.
2. Because the money that AAN makes from AAN CAN pays for programs and services for your paper. It pays for the Financial Standards and Quarterly Business Trends Survey; it pays for the Web site; it pays for marketing and public relations; it pays for diversity initiatives and everything else we do. And what kinds of things could we do if we had more money to do it with? More free convention registrations. How about regional sales training conferences where every AAN paper gets to send their entire sales staff for no cost? Or how about the same thing for editorial? Hey, we can dream, can’t we?
To learn more about the AAN CAN program or to download a sales brochure, visit the AAN CAN website.
We would like to make it easy for you to train your reps, even if it means sending someone from AAN to visit your paper. This is important, so we’ll do whatever it takes. It’s the future of this trade association.