Classified Conference-Goers Find Community, Challenges

Classified reps don’t get the recognition of, say, regular columnists, but they’re no less vital to the success of alt-weeklies. It takes a special breed of salesperson to balance the needs of unpredictable administrators with those of clients placing ads for everything from life partners to patio furniture — ads that bring in revenue that alt-weeklies depend on for their continued existence.

This year’s AAN West conference featured some of classified advertising’s best and brightest. Nearly every publication in attendance brought along a classified representative.

Perhaps the most colorful event these colorful individuals attended was a “Speed Meet,” based on 8-Minute Dating. The rules were the same — sit down, have a conversation and move on the whistle — but Independent Weekly’s Robby Robins mixed things up with some unusual guidelines. The only taboos were financial comparisons and boss bashing, and recommended topics included nicknames, “American Idol,” favorite cocktails, paper or plastic and the details of circulation, selling methods and long-term goals.

“This isn’t earth-shattering. I don’t tell them how to make money or how to do their jobs. I like to put them in a room full of people who do the same crazy crap they do so they know they aren’t the only ones out there,” Robbins said.

The 11-year veteran of classified sales explained that most markets have only one alternative paper, making classified reps feel professionally isolated. “More networking goes on at these conventions than at any single seminar, and it teaches people how to communicate and be friendly, which are the keys to being a good salesman,” said Robbins.

The conference continued with ProMax Training’s Kelly Wirges outlining her “strategic sales process,” which includes persuasive language, up-selling, aesthetic control and the importance of viewing ads from a reader’s perspective.

A pair of sessions exposed the basic underpinnings of successful advertising and helped individuals gain confidence in their own methodologies: Margo Berman from gave a hands-on tutorial about proposal polishing; and AAN’s own Roxanne Cooper presented the results of an AAN-sponsored study on “Influentials & Culture.”

It was a lot to absorb in two days, but folks like Amber Poe, a classified account executive from News & Review, took social and intellectual challenges in stride.

“There isn’t a lot of consistency in the classified section, which makes it even more difficult to develop lasting relationships,” Poe said. “But it has been really helpful to exchange ideas with people from other papers and realize how many ways there are to be good at this.”

Erin Ryan is the calendar editor and a staff writer at Boise Weekly.