Becoming an Advertising Sales Agent

Advertising sales agents have a unique challenge in a world where advertising media is so pervasive. Every mode of public transportation is papered with advertisements. Newspapers and magazines feature almost as much ad space as editorial. Online, banner ads flash for attention and marketers are becoming better and better at tailoring advertising to individual users. Advertising sales agents are the professionals responsible for bringing marketing messages to these physical and virtual ad spaces.

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Advertising sales agents are professionals who sell advertising in magazines and newspapers, on television and radio, online, in direct mail or in poster campaigns and billboards. The goal of marketing is to get a brand, product, or service recognized in order to increase sales, and advertising sales agents are vital to this end, as they’re directly responsible for getting the right message in front of the right consumers.

Because of the key role advertising sales agents play in the field of marketing, CNNMoney’s 2012 “Best Jobs in America” report ranked it 29th out of 50 top jobs in America based on salary and job prospects.

Media Buyer vs. Advertising Sales Agent

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than fifty percent of advertising sales agents work for the information industry, employed by television and radio stations as well as hard copy print and online publishers where they sell advertising time on the programs, publications and sites owned by the media companies that employ them. Others work for media representative and planning firms that are hired to represent media companies to solicit advertisers on the company’s behalf.

Other advertising agents, known as media buyers, are almost exclusively found working for advertising, public relations and media buying firms like R&R Partners, McCann Worldgroup, BBDO and Capitol Media Solutions. Media buyers strategically buy optimal advertising for their clients; companies with a product, brand or service to advertise. These advertising agents communicate with representatives within the client’s marketing department and contact media outlets to buy the advertising space that best suits the needs of the client.

The Advertising Sales Process

With each new client or project, advertising sales agents go through some variation of the following process:

  • Research the client’s background and business needs
  • Build trust with the client by demonstrating knowledge of the client’s needs and an ability to creatively solve marketing problems
  • Present a broad spectrum of advertising options that will meet the client’s needs, often working across several types of media to propose ad packages made up of a variety of types of advertising
  • Describe how certain types of advertising will effectively promote products and services
  • Recommend optimal sizes, formats and durations for advertising
  • Prepare an official proposal based on the advertisements discussed with the client, including an estimate of the cost of the advertising
  • Deliver sales presentation showing the full breadth and future impact of the advertising campaign
  • Negotiate any aspects of the proposal, from scope to total cost
  • Show ad proofs to clients for approval


Specialization and Job Growth

Advertising sales agents tend to become specialized in the areas they’ve become familiar with through the experience they’ve gained while employed with an advertising agency. Some agencies focus on selling ad space within a specific type of media or to a particular industry like tourism, food service or publishing. Some agencies have developed expertise targeting specific audiences, which may include everything from teens, to minority groups, to stay-at-home moms.

Typically, as advertising sales agents gain experience they move from smaller, local clients to larger, national clients. In this way agents are in charge of their own advancement. As they pursue and acquire larger clients, their income grows and their reach increases. Companies also promote successful advertising agents to senior sales and marketing management positions that deal more with management and marketing strategy.

Education and Training

While education is important, this is a results-driven job, so a track record of successful sales can be helpful. Sales experience plus a degree will yield the best opportunities.

Many professionals that work in this field have been formally educated in marketing, sales and public relations protocols, holding specialized degrees that include:

  • Associate Degree of Applied Science in Sales and Marketing
  • Bachelor of Science in Advertising
  • Bachelor of Science in Sales and Distribution
  • Bachelor of Science in Marketing
  • Bachelor of Science in E-Commerce
  • Bachelor of Science in Public Relations
  • Bachelor of Arts in Communications: Public Relations
  • Graduate Certificate: Integrated Marketing Communications
  • Masters in Advertising

Within these degree programs are targeted marketing, communications and business courses that may include:

  • Advertising and Society
  • Direct Marketing
  • Sales Management
  • Advanced Selling Techniques
  • International Marketing

Advertising sales agents need to have a well-rounded set of skills including sales and marketing knowledge, customer service and communication skills and an in-depth understanding of modern media. Agents typically have an independent schedule and minimal supervision, so self-motivation, organization and persistence are critical. As the global economy broadens, it will be increasingly helpful for advertising sales agents to be multilingual.

Optional Sales Certification

The Manufacturers’ Representatives Educational Research Foundation (MRERF) offers CSP (Certified Sales Professional) training to sales representatives in a wide variety of industries. The three-day training helps participants understand and apply the principles of consultative selling. The CSP course focuses on a variety of topics grouped into three broader categories: managing one’s self, the selling process, and business skills.

The Sales and Marketing Professional Organization also offers salesperson certification. Completion of this online program allows sales professionals to hold the SCPS credential. This assures clients that the certified individual has demonstrated proficiency and adheres to a code of ethics. SCPS training covers a wide range of core competencies, from product and company knowledge to closing a sale.

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Like most sales jobs, advertising sales agents work primarily -if not solely- on commission, meaning their income is dependent on how much advertising space and time they can sell. They also face weekly, monthly or annual quotas and often work irregular hours to meet these demands.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), advertising sales agents earned an annual, average salary of $64,660 as of May 2019, with the highest earners working in advertising, public relations and related services, where they earn an average salary of $69,420. Advertising sales agents working for specific media outlets ten to earn significantly less:

  • Television broadcasting: $49,760
  • Radio and TV broadcasting: $60,650

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