Investment, Media Rights, Sponsorship, Global

Five pressure points in selling digital content

Charlie Beall, a senior consultant at digital sports agency Seven League, analyses the issues facing commercial teams in the world of digital content.

by Guest Contributor
Five pressure points in selling digital content

Having spent many years in the publishing industry I recognise and appreciate the healthy tension you need to have between sales and editorial teams.

Sitting in a publishing role, you’d want each team to push the other to some extent, but not to the point where neither could do their job effectively.

However, when print media imploded (and with it the nice separation between editorial and ad pagination), it became increasingly necessary for the two teams to work closely on more integrated digital formats.

It meant editorial joining commercial conversations earlier on and commercial people sitting in on content planning to understand the wider goals of the brand.

The more intelligent operators in each discipline realised they needed to learn one another’s skills and approaches.

Fast forward a few years and the sport industry is going through a similar transition again. At Seven League we have audited the digital operations of many organisations and when we look at the commercialisation of digital content, five main scenarios tend to emerge. Many organisations have all five, some only one or two, I’m yet to see one that doesn’t experience at least one.

Some of the below are direct quotes, others are paraphrased accounts. All have been anonymised to protect the identity of the victims - yes, victims. In our experience, a lot of stress and heartache can be avoided with agreed working practices, training, planning and a more effective use of data.

1. We promised it, so now we have to deliver it

Commercial: Hello, I’ve got the creative through from [brand], it needs to go up today

Content: On which channel?

Commercial: All of them... if that’s OK?

Content: Today?

Commercial: Yes, we promised them a social post every month and it’s the end of the month, so we’re running out of time

Content: We already have two sponsor posts going out today

Commercial: I know, but it’s in the contract

Content: This isn’t really what our channels are for

Commercial: I know, I’m really sorry but my hands are tied

...Later

Commercial: I feel like content are always saying no. I’ve got a job to do, it’s hard getting these deals across the line and it would be good to get a bit more support, to be honest

Content: It’s frustrating, I can see the engagement going down. I also wish I had a bit more notice to co-ordinate these posts so they don’t all come in at the same time. It seems every sponsor wants a post at 3pm on a Saturday

Commercial: It didn’t get the numbers we were hoping for. I’m not sure if we put it out at the right time. It didn’t deliver for us or the partner. I’ve had to promise the partner another post

Content: We ended up putting out a piece of creative collateral that the client provided. We knew it wasn’t going to work, it didn’t. Why would our audience respond to that piece of content? It’s not what they expect from us. It didn’t deliver for us or the sponsor

Why does it happen?

When content people are not involved early enough in the sales process they don’t know what’s been agreed, they can’t set expectations with the commercial team and can’t put forward better, creative solutions.

Commercial people often don’t know the working practices of content teams or how to integrate with their workflows. They are also often inexperienced in selling digital content so tend then to couch content obligations in vague terms that none of the parties fully understand. They can also lack a nuanced understanding of how these types of post can negatively affect a page’s overall performance within a platform’s algorithm.

Unsophisticated digital content sales processes also lack a unified and proactive approach from the rights holder. With data, commercial teams should be able to prove to brands that their colleagues in content are the best people to speak to their audiences and that’s partly what the brand is paying for.

2. How did the partner campaign do?

Commercial: Can I get the numbers for the [brand] campaign?

Content: I’m a bit busy at the moment. Which numbers do you need?

Commercial: The biggest ones you’ve got

Content: OK

[pause… length of pause varies]

Commercial: What do these mean?

Content: Well that’s how many people it reached

Commercial: What’s reach?

Content: It’s complicated

Commercial: OK, well do we at least know how it compares?

Content: No, sorry

...Later

Commercial: I need more support from content. I know they’re busy but our partners are asking us how their content is doing and I can’t give them the answer

Content: I need more advanced notice. I have a day job, I can’t just drop everything every time a sponsor needs some stats

Why does it happen?

Commercial teams aren’t often close to the channels where content is posted. Consequently, it can mean that they are not close to the numbers, what particular metrics mean, how they need to be interpreted and caveated and what represents a good performance versus a bad one.

On a practical level, they often don’t have access to reports and dashboards to find the information themselves. This creates a relationship of dependence on content teams who are in turn hampered from helping, either by their own schedules or a lack of incentives for doing so.

We find that commercial teams often benefit from training in the relative importance of digital metrics and which ones should be measured and reported on to deliver value back to brands. They also find it helpful to have cross-industry performance metrics to refer to for benchmarking purposes.

3. We can do that, if we find a sponsor/partners should be paying for this

Commercial: We need to be more proactive in taking ideas to partners. I’d like a set of case studies of what value we’ve delivered to partners in the past. That would make my job a lot easier. Maybe we could come up with a list of new creative ideas to take to partners?

Content: Ideas are not the problem. We’ve got so many great creative content ideas, it just comes down to resource. We struggle to keep up with the day to day

Commercial: Well give me a list and I’ll see if I can sell some of them in

Content: That would be great, we really should be getting sponsors to pay for the content we want to produce

...Later

Commercial: I feel like we are good at telling partners what we want to do and not good at offering them something that they need

Content: I feel like we come up with so many ideas and the sales team just aren’t good at selling them

Why does it happen?

Content teams sometimes don’t understand that partners are investing for clear business reasons and they will be measuring the return on their various investments across the marketing mix. Content pieces that demonstrably support brands’ campaign objectives are the ones that will lubricate renewal conversations.

That said, it is hard to marry organisational needs with commercial partner needs – sometimes it can be done with a pre-prepared laundry list of options but often it’s best done after you’ve really understood the partner’s objectives. Again, it’s useful to have a member of the content team involved early on when these are being communicated.

4. How much is digital content worth?

Content: We’re increasingly delivering more content for sponsors. It must be worth a lot to the business

Commercial: More and more partners are asking about digital. They see badging as hygiene, they’re more interested in authentic storytelling. I couldn’t tell you how much digital is worth as part of the wider deal though

...Later

Commercial: We know there’s value in what we’re doing. I just don’t know how much. I’d love to see how much value we’re leaving on the table in our current deals or what we’ve got that we don’t know we could be selling

Content: I’d like to know how much all this work we’re doing is worth to us. Without a number it’s hard to tell if it’s even worth doing

Why does it happen?

Very few organisations value their digital assets either at the initial sales stage or when it comes to renewals or upsells.

That’s partly because this is new territory and there’s a lack of a consistent pricing methodology in the market.

There are companies out there offering digital valuation services (including Seven League). When you engage, it’s worth asking them to elaborate on their methodological framework to check that you understand and agree with it.

Some rights holders are wary of being too transparent about valuations because they want to protect the value of their partnership bundles. If they provide specific details of one aspect of a package over others then it allows partners to start requesting only the bits they want. Whatever the case, rights holders should understand what they’re sitting on because brands are increasingly doing their own calculations of what they’re buying.

5. If we sold it, we couldn’t deliver

Commercial: I’m not confident that if we sold in one of these big content ideas we’d be able to deliver it.

Content: I’m not confident that if we sold in one of these big content ideas we’d be able to deliver it.

Why does it happen?

For many sport organisations this is a new area. It’s taking brave teams to try out new ideas and respond to brand needs for more relevant connections with audiences.

Often rights holders haven’t built out internal case studies to prove their capability. Commercial teams are also often wary of over-burdening their colleagues who are being pulled in a variety of directions.

Sometimes you simply won’t have the resource or the skills to execute in-house. This doesn’t mean you can’t still sell content and outsource fulfilment at a margin while you work on building your internal capability, though.


Speaking of which… each of the five scenarios above is missing a ‘What to do?’ section. In every case, one of the options is to call Seven League. We have experience solving these kinds of problems for both brands and rights holders and we’re happy to talk through any of the issues you might have. Get in touch here