Newsquest transitions sales force to focus on digital solutions

“Our challenge is: How do we get the best out of our 1,000 salespeople? How do we get 1,000 salespeople who can take 2 million businesses by the hand and navigate them on this difficult journey?” says Morgan Stevenson, Director of SME Solutions for Newsquest, one of the UK’s largest regional news publishing groups.

Digital Media Europe 2018, day two. -- Photo: Rasmus Flindt Pedersen, (+45) 41604460,, --

by Brian Veseling | May 2, 2018

Photo by Rasmus Flindt Pedersen for WAN-IFRA.

Newsquest, which is owned by US-based Gannett, has more than 200 local news brands and magazines with 28 million monthly digital users. It also reaches 6 million people each week in print.

The company’s goal is to become a digital marketing solutions provider. To do this, Stevenson said they have been training their salespeople to become more adept at acting as consultants who can help their customers – the 2 million small and medium-sized businesses throughout the UK – to find real solutions to the issues that concern their businesses rather than simply selling them ads.

Extending solutions

Often small businesses are trying to figure out how to best spend the limited budget they have on marketing. Should they develop their website? Buy Google AdWords? Or buy an ad in the paper?

“It’s challenging for them, and so we know we have to take these individuals on this journey,” Stevenson told participants at WAN-IFRA’s recent Digital Media Europe conference in Copenhagen.

He added that there is no one-stop-shop for many small businesses owners allowing them to work with one person who can help them on their digital marketing journey.

“We have to extend the solutions that we offer them. We have to become their best friends on how they navigate this opportunity,” Stevenson said.

A key part of this is getting the salespeople to become more familiar with their customers’ businesses and their offerings.

“I need to understand which of your products are more profitable than others,” he said. “You can have a plumber who is busy, who’s got no time for new customers. But are they just servicing boilers or are they replacing them? Because the latter is 10 times more profitable than the former.”

That kind of thinking requires a new skillset, Stevenson said, and added: “That is a new mindset that we have to instill in our salespeople. And where we’ve really focused on that new mindset is to create a new tier in our sales organisation.”

Newsquest ultimately developed an online sales academy that he said has been one of their best investments.

“We’ve got 1,000 salespeople and we’ve got to take them through that entire journey. How do you do that? Well, you can’t do it with two sales trainers.”
– Morgan Stevenson, Newsquest

Every sales person and manager within Newsquest has access to the online academy, which uses “a blended learning perspective.”

“It’s a continual adaption, continual learning,” he said. “It provokes them to interact with videos, checklists, and then we follow these sessions up with workshops that are about putting that knowledge into practice.”

Today, 70 percent of the company’s salespeople are progressing through one new module each month, Stevenson said. Over time, the individual salesperson moves through a series of levels from Essential to Enhanced and then on to Elite and at the very top, a level they call “Top Gun.”

He told participants that he recommends reviewing how they set up their training and development, and encouraged them to establish a learning platform where people can learn at their own pace and with the type of information that best suits their learning – be it reading articles, watching videos or listening to lessons.

Benefits of being part of a publisher co-operative

Stevenson also noted that on the national level, Newsquest is part of 1XL, a publisher co-operative that includes nearly all of the approximately 30 publishing companies that make up the UK’s regional press.

“We are very proud to be part of the 1XL publisher co-operative,” Stevenson said, adding that by pooling together the inventory of the groups, they instantly become relevant to anyone looking to buy national advertising.

“Newsquest doesn’t have a national team in-house. We have given it to a company by the name of Media Force who runs the 1XL publisher co-operative. So, we’ve all pooled our sales teams into one place. By pooling to 1XL, we now look like another national, another option for buyers to engage with.”

In addition, he said, the regional groups gain by pooling their data, which gives them enormous scale.

“I implore you to look into a publisher co-operative because I think there’s a huge amount that can be gained,” Stevenson said. “It’s not easy, but if you go in with that mindset, I think you can find some fantastic new opportunities and real incremental revenues. It isn’t just robbing what you’re already doing, I can assure you of that. It’s new revenues. It’s revenues that people are not spending with you because they don’t see you as something big enough.”


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