How to get ahead in advertising – The Washington Post way

When The Washington Post Co. first selected ‘SAP for Media’ – in 2003 – to manage the entire ad sales cycle for its multiple brands the media conglomerate realized the risks involved.

“SAP for Media was relatively new to the North American market,” reminisces Patrick Burton, senior program manager, IT at The Washington Post (TWP).

Burton was one of the presenters at Sapphire 2008, SAP’s recently concluded annual conference in Orlando.

At the time, very few North American publications had deployed the SAP product – The Globe and Mail being one of them. “There were still a lot of questions about how the North American industry would use it, as opposed to (say) Europe and Asia,” Burton noted.

And that wasn’t the only risk.

As the rollout involved a slew of major properties – collectively known as Washington Post Media (since February this division has been headed by Katharine Weymouth) – a massive change-management effort was required

Despite the many questions then, the decision to go with SAP was a unanimous one and was ratified by a group of 16 directors across four departments, Burton recalled.

Since then there have been other times when the company has reviewed and re-validated the SAP rollout.

“Each time we talk about it we stand firm with our decision. There’s no equivocation,” Burton said.

He and other senior executives involved in the decision have had five years to review the impact of what SAP for Media has accomplished in their organization.

And they have plenty of reasons to be satisfied with what they see.

The magic of consolidation

From a business and a technology standpoint, one of the biggest benefits is the SAP-driven consolidation of the two main advertising systems.

SAP for Media has also helped the Washington Post Media streamline advertising processes, offer a variety of package sales options to customers, and provide better support to billing and finance operations.

“There’s a host of functions we’ve integrated and worked with around SAP,” said Burton. These include credit card processing and computer telephone integration (CTI) – things that could not be accomplished with the previous system.

He said customer interaction has greatly improved. “For instance, we have an Avaya phone system – and are now able to do screen pops and bring phone calls right into SAP.”

Likewise the company has been able to offer customers telephone self-service. “Customers can get information on how much they owe us, and details about their ads. On the classified self-service side we have a set of Web sites that interact directly with SAP.”

All this was impossible in the pre-SAP days when the media company was saddled with a mainframe-based classified system that was more than 22 years old.

Apart from being nearly past its useful life, there were other critical issues with the legacy system: vendor support for the system was ending, it was deployed on obsolete hardware, and was incapable of meeting the changing needs of a fast growing company.

One critical need was a business related. It had to do with adopting a strategy and system that bolstered ad revenues in an industry facing very difficult times.

“Quarterly reports continue to show decline in circulation and revenue,” noted Burton. “This only highlights the need for a solid advertising [system].”

The need of the hour was a system that would support The Washington Post’s long term strategy of consolidation and serve as a catalyst for change.

SAP for Media, said Burton, met 90 per cent of the media company’s listed requirements.

It provides an integrated order-to-cash system for all Washington Post Media products, while supporting a range of ad package options for customers – extending across multiple brands.

“Brand” new approach

Washington Post Media includes four main categories – all supported by SAP include:

  • The newspaper division with the following products – The Washington Post newspaper, with a daily circulation of just over 600,000; Express – a free daily; El Tiempo Latino, a Spanish language newspaper that the company acquired a few years ago – and the National Weekly Edition of TWP, a weekly tabloid typically mailed out to subscribers.
  • Other advertising partner products such as The Onion, a weekly satirical newspaper that TWP has a business alliance with.
  • Online interactive brands including the Web site, and theRoot, an online magazine aimed at a black audience.
  • Classified Ventures – a joint-venture owned and funded by five large media partners, including The Washington Post Company. The partners jointly capitalize on the ad revenue growth in online real estate and automotive categories through sites such as, and Homescape.

With SAP it’s now possible for TWP to offer customers ad bundles across all these brands, appropriately price those packages, and provide accurate billing information – things that were a challenge with the earlier system.

“We did not want to be on a newspaper-centric system,” said Burton. “We wanted to be on something that spanned across industries. And this is not an island, nor is it newspaper centric.”

Classifieds is the current focus of the bundles, Burton said, outlining three principal ways the company is managing its advertising packages.


  • 1. Classified Ad with the forced online buy


This method runs across multiple lines of business and is the most simple of the three.

It involves a print classified ad that is also put online. “There’s one price for both print and online,” said Burton. “You can opt out and have it not go online, but you’re still going to pay the same price.”

At the time customers sets up the booking unit, they can decide whether they want a Web component to it or not.

“This is the easiest order entry process for us,” said Burton.

  1. 2. Combined booking unit with a date-type combination

This option enables the customer to order a classified ad and determine how and where it will run and for what length of time.

For instance, Burton said, the customer could order a three-line ad that runs three days in TWP, and seven days online for a fixed price. “Then there could be upsell options for borders and icons.”

When such a combined unit is ordered the data-type combination would generate the appropriate schedule lines and billing data set behind the scenes.

“It’s a pretty efficient order booking technique with those components,” said Burton.

This method has also been extended to the classified self-service Web site.

When the customer visits the site, and selects the line of business, depending on who the customer is – a behind-the-scenes determination is made about what’s available, at what rates, the kinds of classified templates that can be booked and the packages the customer is eligible to take advantage of.

“This is built on the front end, but interacts with all the master data on the back end so there’s no redundant business logic on the front end,” Burton said.

Once the selection process is completed the customer can see a whizzywig of what they’ve just ordered.

“What you see is what you’re going to get in SAP. So it’s all driven by the SAP for Media engine,” said Burton. “Once you order the ad, [the system] gives you a combined order – and generates an order ID.”


  • 3. Multiple booking units plus a combination sales code


This, said Burton, is TWP’s favoured method and it would like to use more often.

In this case, he said, you need to order each item separately and the order isn’t flat priced as in the first and second methods.

For instance, he said, the customer could place three orders:

  • A print ad in TWP
  • The ad running 30 days online
  • The ad running in Express

“After the items are ordered a package discount is applied across all items based on who you are as a customer,” Burton said. “If you’re a new customer, you might get an open rate; if you’re a contract customer it’ll get you a contract rate.”

This method, he said, offers customers the flexibility to build packages based on their need, and that it takes advantage of existing structures (such as contracts).

“The disadvantages are that the order entry process can be time consuming and we don’t have the ability to sell interactively to the customer,” said Burton.

He also noted that while the SAP-driven ability to offer packages was great, there are
times when – for business reasons – the company may decide not avail of that option.

“If the customer and price point you’re targeting doesn’t really lend itself to being bundled this way – then it would not make sense to offer bundles in SAP.”

For instance he said, no bundles are currently being offered for National Weekly, TWP magazine and pre-prints in TWP and El Timepo Latino – as “there hasn’t been a business demand for it.”

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