Career Guide for Advertising Sales

An advertising sales agent sells advertising space for newspapers, magazines, television, radio, websites, outdoor advertisers, and other mediums of advertising. The sales representative work with and for media companies selling advertising space and sponsorships.

In this free career guide, you will learn how to have a successful career in advertising sales.

Advertising Sales Agent Summary

  • Applicants who have sales experience and a college degree should have the best opportunities, but keen competition for jobs is expected during downturns in spending on advertising.
  • Educational requirements vary; the ability to communicate effectively and persuasively is important for entry-level candidates.
  • Performance-based pay, including bonuses and commissions, can make up a large portion of an advertising sales agent’s earnings.
  • Pressure to meet monthly sales quotas can be stressful.

Working as an Advertising Sales Agent

Advertising sales agents—often referred to as account executives or advertising sales representatives—sell or solicit advertising primarily for newspapers and periodicals, television and radio, websites, telephone directories, and direct mail and outdoor advertisers. Because such a large share of revenue for many of these media outlets is generated from advertising, advertising sales agents play an important role in their success.

More than half of all advertising sales agents work in the information sector, mostly for media firms including television and radio broadcasters, print and Internet publishers, and cable program distributors. Firms that are regionally based often need the help of two types of advertising sales agents, one to handle local clients and one to solicit advertising from national advertisers. Print publications and radio and television stations employ local sales agents, who are responsible for sales in an immediate territory, while separate companies known as media representative firms sell advertising space or time for media owners at the national level. Sales agents employed in media representation work exclusively through executives at advertising agencies, called media buyers, who purchase advertising space for their clients who want to initiate national advertising campaigns. When a local television broadcaster, radio station, newspaper, or online publisher is working with a media representative firm, the media company normally employs a national sales manager to coordinate efforts with the media representative.

Most advertising sales agents work outside the office occasionally, calling on clients and prospective clients at their places of business. These agents may have an appointment, or they may practice cold calling—arriving without an appointment. Obtaining new accounts is an important part of the job, and they may spend much of their time traveling to and visiting prospective advertisers and current clients. Sales agents also may work on their employer’s premises and handle sales for customers who walk in or telephone the firm to inquire about advertising. Some may make telephone sales calls as well—calling prospects, attempting to sell the media firm’s advertising space or time, and arranging followup appointments between interested prospects and sales agents.

A critical part of building relationships with clients is learning about their needs. Before the first meeting with a client, a sales agent gathers background information on the client’s products, current customers, prospective customers, and the geographic area of the target market. The sales agent then meets with the clients to explain how specific types of advertising will help promote the client’s products or services most effectively. If a client wishes to proceed, the advertising sales agent prepares an advertising proposal to present to the client. Preparation of the proposal entails determining the advertising medium to be used, preparing sample advertisements, and providing the client with cost estimates for the project. Because consolidation among media industries has brought the sales of different types of advertising under one roof, advertising sales increasingly are in the form of integrated packages. This means that advertising sales agents may sell packages that include print and online ad space and time slots with a broadcast subsidiary. Technological innovations also have created more products to sell, meaning that a local television sales agent might sell ad space on a station’s Web site and mobile service, in addition to selling commercials.

After a contract has been established, advertising sales agents serve as the main contact between the advertiser or ad agency and the media firm. They handle communication between the parties and assist in developing sample artwork or radio and television spots if needed. For radio and television advertisements, they also may arrange for commercial taping sessions and accompany clients to the sessions.

In addition to maintaining sales and overseeing clients’ accounts, advertising sales agents’ other duties include analyzing sales statistics and audience demographics, preparing reports on clients’ accounts, and scheduling and keeping appointments and work hours. They read about new and existing products and monitor the sales, prices, and products of their competitors. In many firms, the advertising sales agent handles the drafting of contracts specifying the advertising work to be performed and its cost, and may undertake customer service responsibilities such as answering questions or addressing any problems the client may have with the proposal. Sales agents also are responsible for developing sales tools, promotional plans, and media kits, which they use to help make a sale.

Work environment. Selling can be stressful because income and job security depend directly on the agent’s ability to maintain and expand his or her clientele. Companies generally set monthly sales quotas and place considerable pressure on advertising sales agents to meet those quotas. The added stress of rejection places more pressure on the agent.

Although most agents work long and often irregular hours, some have the freedom to determine their own schedules. The Internet and other electronic tools allow agents to do more work from home or while on the road, enabling them to send messages and documents to clients and coworkers, keep up with industry news, and access databases that help them target potential customers. Advertising sales agents use e-mail to conduct much of the business with their clients.

Many advertising sales agents work more than 40 hours per week, frequently involving irregular hours and work on weekends and holidays. However, many advertising sales agents are able to set their own schedules. Ten percent of advertising sales agents were employed part time in 2008.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

For sales positions that require meeting clients, large employers prefer applicants with a college degree. Smaller companies generally are more willing to hire individuals with a high school degree. Successful sales experience and the ability to communicate effectively become more important than educational attainment once the candidate is hired. Most training for advertising sales agents takes place informally on the job.

Education and training. Although a high school diploma may be sufficient for an entry-level advertising sales position, some employers prefer applicants with a college degree, particularly for sales positions that require meeting clients. Courses in marketing, leadership, communication, business, and advertising are helpful. For those who have a proven record of successfully selling other products, educational requirements are not likely to be strict.

Most training, however, takes place on the job, and can be formal or informal in nature. In most cases, an experienced sales manager instructs a newly hired advertising sales agent who lacks sales experience. In this one-on-one environment, supervisors typically coach new hires and observe them as they make sales calls and contact clients. Supervisors then advise the new hires on ways to improve their interaction with clients. Employers may bring in consultants to lead formal training sessions when agents sell to a specialized market segment, such as automotive dealers or real estate professionals.

Other qualifications. Employers look for applicants who are honest and who possess a pleasant personality and neat professional appearance. After gaining entry into the occupation, the advertising sales agent will find that successful sales experience and the ability to communicate effectively become more important than educational attainment. In fact, when the agent is selling or soliciting ad space, personality traits are equally, if not more, important than one’s academic background. In general, smaller companies are more willing to hire unproven individuals.

Because they represent their employers to the executives of client organizations, advertising sales agents must have excellent interpersonal and written communication skills. Being multilingual, particularly in English and Spanish, is another skill that will benefit prospective advertising agents as media increasingly seek to market to Hispanics and foreign-born persons. Self-motivation, organization, persistence, independence, and the ability to multitask are required because advertising sales agents set their own schedules and perform their duties without much supervision. Creativity also is an invaluable trait for advertising sales agents, who must come up with new ways to attract clients and to serve existing ones.

Advancement. Advancement in the occupation means taking on bigger, more lucrative clients. Agents with proven leadership ability and a strong sales record may advance to supervisory and managerial positions, such as sales supervisor, sales manager, or vice president of sales. Frequent contact with managers of other departments and people in other firms provides sales agents with leads about job openings, enhancing their advancement opportunities. Successful advertising sales agents also may advance to positions in other industries, such as corporate sales. In small firms, where the number of supervisory and management positions is limited, advancement may come slowly. Promotion may occur more quickly in larger media firms and in media representative firms.

Employment as an Advertising Sales Agent

Advertising sales agents held about 166,800 jobs in 2008. Workers were concentrated in three industries: 33 percent were in advertising, public relations, and related services; about 32 percent were employed in newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers; and 17 percent were in radio and television broadcasting. Media representative firms are in the advertising and related services industry. A relatively small number of jobs were found in cable and other program distribution.

Employment is spread around the country, but jobs in radio and television stations and large, well-known publications are concentrated in metropolitan areas. Media representative firms also are concentrated in large cities with many advertising agencies, such as New York City.

Job Outlook

Employment is projected to increase about as fast as average. Growth in new media outlets, such as the Internet, will be partially offset by a decline in print media. Applicants who have sales experience and a college degree should have the best opportunities, but keen competition for jobs is expected during downturns in advertising spending.

Employment change. Employment of advertising sales agents is expected to increase by 7 percent from 2008 to 2018, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Fast growth in the number of cable channels, online advertisers, and other advertising media will create many new opportunities for advertisers. This growth will be partially offset by the decline in print media, which will decrease the demand for advertising sales agents in these industries.

Advertising as an industry is expected to grow over the 2008–18 period. Changes in technology will create new and more efficient ways for advertisers to reach customers, which will increase the need for advertising sales agents. Growth should be particularly high in online advertising sales, in cable television, and for consolidated media firms.

At the same time, the industries employing large shares of advertising sales agents, particularly the newspaper, periodical, and directory publishing industries, have suffered significant declines in recent years. As a result, there are likely to be fewer opportunities for advertising sales agents within these areas compared to other industries over the next decade.

Although advances in technology have made advertising sales agents more productive, allowing agents to take on additional duties and improve the quality of the services they provide, technological advances have not substantially decreased overall demand for these workers. Productivity gains have had the largest effect on the miscellaneous services that these workers provide, such as accounting, the formulation of proposals, and customer service duties, allowing them to provide faster, improved services to their clients. For example, the use of e-mail has considerably shortened the time it takes to negotiate a sale and place an ad. Sales agents may accomplish more in less time, but many work more hours than in the past, spending additional time on followup and service calls. Thus, although productivity gains will temper the growth of advertising sales agents, who can now manage more accounts, the increasing growth in advertising across all industries will ensure that new advertising sales agents will continue to be needed in the future.

Job prospects. Applicants who have sales experience and a college degree should have the best opportunities. For those with a proven sales record in advertising sales, opportunities should be excellent. In addition to the job openings generated by employment growth, openings will occur each year because of the need to replace sales representatives who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force. Each year, many advertising sales agents discover that they are unable to earn enough money; as a result, they leave the occupation. Advertising revenues are sensitive to economic downturns, which cause the industries and companies that advertise to reduce both the frequency of campaigns and the overall level of spending on advertising. Advertising sales agents must work hard to get the most out of every dollar spent on advertising under these conditions. Therefore, the number of opportunities for advertising sales agents fluctuates with the business cycle. Applicants can expect keen competition for job openings during downturns in advertising spending.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2008 Projected
Employment, 2018
Change,
2008-18
Number Percent
Advertising sales agents 41-3011 166,800 178,900 12,100 7
NOTE: Data in this table are rounded.

Earnings for Advertising Sales Agents

Including commissions, median annual wages for all advertising sales agents were $43,480 per year in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $30,750 and $64,320 a year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,600 a year. Median annual wages for sales agents in the industries in which they were concentrated were as follows:

Motion picture and video industries $62,600
Cable and other subscription programming 50,740
Advertising, public relations, and related services 48,550
Radio and television broadcasting 41,750
Newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers 38,100

Performance-based pay, including bonuses and commissions, can make up a large portion of an advertising sales agent’s earnings. Most employers pay some combination of salaries, commissions, and bonuses. Commissions are usually based on individual sales numbers, whereas bonuses may depend on individual performance, on the performance of all sales workers in a group or district, or on the performance of the entire company. For agents covering multiple areas or regions, commissions also may be based on the difficulty in making a sale in that particular area. Sales revenue is affected by the economic conditions and business expectations facing the industries that tend to advertise. Earnings from commissions are likely to be high when these industries are doing well and low when companies decide not to advertise as frequently.

In addition to their earnings, advertising sales agents are usually reimbursed for entertaining clients and for other business expenses, such as the costs of transportation, meals, and hotel stays. They often receive benefits such as health and life insurance, pension plans, vacation and sick leave, personal use of a company car, and frequent-flier mileage. Some companies offer incentives such as free vacation trips or gifts for outstanding sales workers.

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