Ad Sales Life

Mastering renewal sales. The key to exponential growth


I’ve had the privilege of diving into and overseeing various aspects of sales, particularly renewal sales, and I’ve found it to be an incredible source of knowledge and growth. At a pivotal point in my career, renewal sales uncovered the intricacies of exponential revenue growth — how and why it happens and the environment needed to foster it. In the context of newspaper media, I initially grappled with the idea that, for some reason, advertising campaigns constantly need to start from scratch, rebuild relationships and reaffirm value each renewal cycle. While I believe this premise holds some truth, I’ve also realized that we often encounter obstacles in overall revenue growth because of the lack of understanding and strategy of renewal sales.

Renewal sales hold a special place for me because I firmly believe that the path to revenue growth lies in mastering the strategy behind renewals, whether in advertising sales or subscriptions, while driving new acquisitions and assessing their long-term impact on the bottom line. It’s an area that resonates with me as it combines strategy, sales and financial analysis and presents a compelling model for outlining the foundation of revenue growth in news media organizations.

For those not currently exploring the potential of renewal sales, I’d like to provide a roadmap illustrating how to approach them and demonstrate how an effective renewal strategy may drive exponential revenue growth for your organization when given the attention, understanding and focus they deserve.

Building the foundation for sustainable revenue growth

Newspaper advertising sales possess a unique advantage, showcasing their proficiency in capturing and capitalizing on various moments in time, whether they’re historical, seasonal or event-driven. This ability shines through in creating special sections that consistently generate promotional revenue. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that this remarkable strength can pose challenges when achieving sustained exponential growth in advertising revenue over time, leaving many in our industry perplexed and without a clear path forward.

The issue’s core lies in establishing robust, enduring and highly profitable advertising structures that can drive and sustain exponential revenue growth. For instance, when examining the practicality of an annual special section, it's clear how it can positively impact seasonal bottom-line revenue, as seen in the case of Black Friday special sections. However, when such an initiative is integrated into a new product approach, with content delivered weekly or monthly under annual advertising agreements, it fosters an environment where both the audience and sponsors become accustomed to consistent content and the associated value. Overall, this strategy can lead to higher renewal rates and growth and maturation of revenue and product development. 

Actual exponential growth begins when we can rely on and forecast the retention of advertising dollars year after year while securing new annual business each month. Consistency is paramount in news media advertising, whether the content is delivered weekly, biweekly or monthly, and in formats conducive to annual sales.

Frequent product changes and a reluctance to engage in longer-term commitments can impede progress and the pursuit of new business while relying on residual advertising revenue from previous agreements. Achieving this balance depends heavily on developing products that inherently facilitate long-term advertising commitments with minimal need for ongoing oversight and adjustments. Unfortunately, news media advertising sales teams often start anew each month, leading to erratic fluctuations in advertising revenue. To foster exponential growth, bridging the gap between understanding, commitment and consistency in our advertising strategies is essential, ultimately paving the way for sustained success in the industry.

Navigating the complex landscape of renewal sales

Each year brings its own set of challenges that may require fresh campaign proposals and innovative approaches. However, instead of fixating solely on the “what,” it’s equally vital to shift our attention to the “when” and “how.” It’s common to see a dip in the first year when considering retention rates, but this trend tends to reverse beyond the second year. This observation underscores the significance of grasping the intricacies of renewal sales to unlock the potential for exponential growth. To thrive in the realm of renewals, adopting a long-term perspective, continuous refinement of your communication strategy and impeccable timing are essential — all with the ultimate goal of achieving higher reclosure or retention rates.

Understanding when, where and how exponential revenue growth occurs in renewal sales naturally leads to a greater emphasis on your overall communication flow and timing. You’ll begin to ask yourself what you can do each year to enhance the chances of re-closing advertising deals of all sizes from the previous year. How can you simplify this process, and why would an advertiser choose your organization again? Equally important is how you can automate this renewal process year after year.

This subtle shift in focus forms the bedrock of your renewal strategy and, consequently, your revenue growth over time. The critical question becomes: How can you create an environment that optimizes and incentivizes renewal agreements based on predetermined timeframes, advertiser volume and revenue figures?

Consider this scenario: You have a sales representative who closed 10 advertising agreements totaling $10,000 in annual advertising sales, all set to expire within the next month. What retention percentage would you expect from this sales executive or sales manager, and what automation or communication flow is in place to enhance their ability to secure renewals? These critical questions shape an effective renewal strategy, leading to sustained revenue growth.

Adjusting renewal commissions for long-term financial health

To achieve exponential growth, it’s crucial to balance gaining new accounts and retaining renewal sales, encompassing both active accounts and revenue from renewal campaigns.

Despite being an unpopular viewpoint, one of the most vital yet often overlooked aspects of renewal sales is adjusting commission rates over time, favoring lower rates compared to new sales. Commission structures are powerful incentives that shape behaviors within sales teams. A higher commission rate for new sales motivates account executives to focus on acquiring fresh business — a cornerstone of sustained growth.

Additionally, while some cases may require extensive campaign changes, renewal sales mainly involve maintaining existing structures and emphasizing precise communication about ongoing or extended advertising campaigns’ needs and resources. The real value of renewal sales lies in consistently delivering services, often managed by an internal administrative team.

Many organizations have adopted team sales strategies, where sales executives collaborate with coordinators or administrative staff to manage their portfolios efficiently. This allows them to focus more on acquiring new accounts, driving the organization toward enduring growth.

Due to the potential variability in commission costs linked to renewal sales, it’s crucial to promptly and proportionally adjust renewal sales commission rates for the long-term financial health of your sales revenue.

Embracing renewal strategies for long-term success

Throughout my journey, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with remarkable organizations and delving deep into the world of renewal sales and exponential revenue growth. Whether exploring avenues for revenue growth or creating a sustainable revenue model through subscriptions, memberships, advertising, sponsorship or donor relations, it’s essential not to underestimate the pivotal role of a well-crafted renewal strategy. Consider the integration of renewals right from the outset, as these are the building blocks of sustained financial health. While the path may sometimes seem complex, a dedicated focus on renewal strategy can significantly reduce the odds of starting from scratch after the initial launch. Although such situations are not uncommon, a well-planned renewal strategy can make a difference. With this approach, lasting campaigns and products can withstand the test of time, enduring for years rather than months. 

Richard E. Brown is a News Media Alliance Rising Star recipient, the former director of renewals and digital sales strategy at LPi, and the former director of digital operations and sales of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He recently served as the head of digital subscriber churn for Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK and is now the senior director of retention for The Daily Beast. He is a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation and is the owner of RE Media Holdings, LLC. Richard is available for consulting and can be reached at


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