Software Streamlines Ad Sales Paperwork

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Operators including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, among others, are using software from STRATA Marketing to reduce the amount of paperwork and time it takes to manage rate cards and spot inventory.

“We streamline the process for our clients,” said John Shelton, STRATA’s president.

STRATA has created software that handles all contacts, cold call lists and emails for local ad sales cable executives and they have a proposal package that includes ratings research AEs can use when making sales presentations. An electronic ordering package allows agencies to buy avails via email. The orders are then electronically sent to an operator’s traffic operations. Traffic managers can use the software to track orders and view open avails.

“Our software allows you to track everything,” Behr said. “One-on-one reports can be created with the hit of one button. We have a group of 175 employees with a loyalty to the businesses they serve. They understand the business and have the knowledge to put it into software. For agencies, it’s all about margins so we have to put a lot of our focus on e-business where they can electronically order, revise and see where and when their make-goods are run.”

The company’s software has also reduced the amount of paper that flows between clients, agencies and media companies.

“When we used to visit agencies, every sales office had two or three fax machines and they had employees whose sole job it was to man those machines,” Shelton said. “Now, if they have a fax machine at all, it’s tucked away in some small closet somewhere. The amount of paper that has gone away would fill a rain forest.” By automating the process from beginning to end, the chance for mistakes is also reduced, he said. “We’ve completely taken the typing function between orders and traffic.”

Indeed, in 2005, STRATA reworked National Cable Communications’ backend office making it totally electronic. The company created software that was specific to cable operators’ needs. But it also has agency-specific software that is now used by over 600 advertising agencies around the country, according to Joy Behr, STRATA’s executive vice president-agency/custom division.

After 20 years as an independent company, STRATA’s top brass knew they couldn’t expand without being sold. But they also felt strongly about remaining independently operated.

“We work with agencies, operators, reps and clients,” Sheldon said. “We thought it would be important that we remain independent.”

Comcast Spotlight bought STRATA in 2006 and has allowed the company to do just that. “We’ve seen every area of our business grow 10% every year,” he said. “No one seems very worried about our ownership. Understanding the industries we work with is the most important thing and we do understand our clients’ needs. We’ve been able to double our TV business since 2005.”

The agency side of the business is also booming, Behr said. “We have all the media solutions for the agencies to tap into. We’ve leveraging our relationship because we’re making it easier for agencies to buy cable’s advertising services.”

Today, STRATA is working to expand its software to handle more advanced advertising services, Behr said. “We’re aggressively adding components to our existing suite of software and we are looking for ways to develop hybrid web models. What’s going on on the Web is different enough that they have different processes for ordering, entering and invoicing ads. But we’re building those capacities now for advanced [cable] services and pushing that into our agency-centric software as well.”

The hope is that by making it easy for agencies to buy advanced service avails, the number of sales will increase accordingly.

When spot cable emerged in the 1990s, agencies didn’t buy local spots much even if ratings were high, Behr said.

“They didn’t have the support systems to do that so we can came in and helped develop the processes necessary to support those purchases,” she said. “We see the advanced advertising ad world similarly. It’s going to get the audience and eyeballs to be successful. We just have to help the agencies buy in.”

Indeed, every software system STRATA is working today is being changed to include advanced advertising capabilities, Shelton said.

“It’s big,” he said. “The whole business has that as its major thrust. Every department is focused on it.”