Guild leaders and members met Tuesday with the company to discuss its plans to use a Hearst-owned company, Local Edge, to sell advertising into the newspaper.
Local Edge used to sell ads into the Talking Phone Book, which no longer exists, and Publisher George Hearst said the aim is to try to keep that revenue. He said the firm, which is on Wolf Road, will sell print, digital and search engine optimization ads, all work our employees do. They will have access to Salesforce, the same tool used by ad sales staff to schedule appointments.
Naturally, the union was concerned about the potential of losing the work or the commission revenue.
Under the imposed conditions, the company must negotiate over outsourcing if it would replace or displace an existing staff position. Hearst said it would not. There are currently vacant positions in SEO sales.
Local Edge employs 10 people including eight salespersons.
Hearst said the firm is largely focused on selling in the northern part of the market in Saratoga County. He said they had 275 active advertisers who bought into the now-defunct phone book, only 20 to 25 of which were also TU clients. Those who already work with TU salespeople would stay with TU sales staff, he said.
Rick Barber, one of the members attending the meeting, told Hearst of a disturbing situation involving a Local Edge salesperson and one of Rick’s clients. The salesperson arrived unannounced, interrupted a business owner during a meeting after being told she was occupied, and then shouted “You are rude!” at the owner when told to make an appointment. Barber had to do damage control on an account he worked hard to sustain.
The business cards for Local Edge workers identify them as working for “Hearst Media Services in conjunction with the Times Union.” But the key words a potential customer will hear is that the person is a Times Union representative, and Guild members worry about the potential impact on the value of the brand they helped to build.
Guild leaders said they worried about potential issues with the professionalism and high turnover of salespeople common in these kinds of firms.
Guild Vice President Lindsay LaFountain asked if the Times Union would get credit for revenue. Under the company’s plan, the Local Edge salespeople could call on any account that a Times Union salesperson had not contacted in 30 days.
LaFountain said a TU salesperson might know that a customer usually buys $10,000 in ads a year, while a Local Edge person could not know that and book a $1,000 ad and consider it an accomplishment.
“It’s going to be an ongoing management challenge. Members of that group will be held accountable to goals,” Hearst said. “If it doesn’t prove to be a successful venture, we’ll have to reconsider.”
Managers at the Times Union will be actively involved in these blended sales efforts, Hearst said.
Hearst said the Local Edge staff will start selling inactive accounts at month’s end. Asked by LaFountain who would design any print ads sold, Hearst replied that the Times Union’s advertising art staff would do so.
Guild members at the meeting, which also included President Tim O’Brien and salesperson Linda Rocke, thanked Hearst for his time. The union, as always, is reviewing the information and welcomes input from sales staff about any concerns or questions they may have.