State of Media Sales 2020

It’s been more than two months since world health officials declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, causing many advertisers to slam the brakes on spending. But a new national survey shows media sales managers and reps are optimistic the marketplace will turn around soon. More than half of sales managers surveyed by sales consultancy SalesFuel expect the tide to turn by this summer. About one in five (21%) anticipate a recovery in June, 18% in July and 16% in 2021.

Cable TV sellers are most optimistic by media format with 27% predicting the recovery will start in June. Print sellers are more pessimistic with at least 21% saying they don’t expect to see the economic recovery until 2021. And almost one-fourth (24%) of digital media sellers (defined as those with digital revenue exceeding 50%) also believe recovery won’t start until 2021.

These are among the findings from "2020 State of Media Sales Study,” based on an online survey of 820 media sales professionals in the U.S. conducted in mid-April. The 10th annual survey included 253 sales managers and 567 sales reps. Respondents represent the entire media spectrum and included 132 radio sales pros.

For March, 33% of U.S. media sales managers reported 20%-50% lower revenue than projected prior to the health crisis and subsequent lockdowns. “If you had a difficult March, you’re not alone,” SalesFuel CEO C. Lee Smith told a webinar audience Tuesday. “It’s something that was prevalent across the industry.” Digital media sellers were gloomiest about March with 46% anticipating a 20%-50% hit to revenue that month. As for April, about 35% of sales managers believe their revenue drop will exceed 50% with radio sellers voicing the worst expectations of any media format with 45% anticipating a 50% revenue drop. “The biggest hits came from major accounts, retail chains, agency buys and national brands,” Smith said.

Asked which categories were hardest hit by the pandemic, over 60% of sales managers said they expect sales decreases in the automotive, entertainment, retail and restaurant verticals this year. Grocery stores will be the beneficiaries of consumer spending typically done at restaurants, the survey found, with 23% of sales managers planning on increased ad revenues from grocers. The same portion of sales managers said local services businesses will be a source of small growth in 2020.

The view from sales reps on the grocery category was similar with 56% saying that grocers don’t seem concerned about their outlook this year. In addition, 29% of reps say their banking and investment clients will make promising 2020 prospects, perhaps because of consumers who need to adjust their spending and savings plans. Millennial reps, in particular are bullish on their grocer, health care services and insurance clients in 2020. The survey shows 31% of millennial sales reps expect to see increases in grocery spending, 40% anticipate higher health care services spending and 29% foresee an uptick in insurance.

“Some categories are going to come out of this very quickly and others are going to take much longer, particularly the areas of travel, entertainment and any categories where there’s large groups of people required,” Smith said.

However, he cautioned webinar attendees that much of what’s ahead for the advertising economy remains unknown. “Because there is so much we don’t know we really have to be agile,” Smith suggested. “Agility is absolutely required in this day and age and we’re going to have to roll with the punches and make changes on the fly. The companies that are able to do that are going to have much more success in the months ahead than those that cannot do that.”

Opportunities For Growth

Despite the overall downturn, the survey identified opportunities for growth amidst the pandemic with some categories poised for major spending increases in 2020. Four in ten respondents (40%) expect to see healthcare spending increases in 2020. (This doesn’t include pharmaceuticals.) “Surprisingly, healthcare has taken a little bit of a hit,” Smith said, pointing to doctors not being able to see patients in person, the postponement of elective surgeries and other non-essential procedures and treatments. “Yet still there is great optimism for healthcare increases in 2020.”

Despite record unemployment, nearly one third of sales managers (32%) project recruiting/employment ad spending to grow in 2020. “They feel there’s going to be a recovery with the advertising of job openings to rehire.” Other categories that sales managers project will be up this year include insurance (26% of respondents expect an increase), local direct/small business (24%), legal services (23%) and banks/investment services (22%).