“It is a great feeling to be hitting our stride and to be growing again…”
It is a great feeling to be hitting our stride and to be growing again. If good companies and good people are defined by how they respond to challenges – and they often are – then we measure up incredibly well by that definition! I think that if I could put this team at AMP up against any other media business anywhere in the country, to compare results before, during, and now on the other side of the most acute period of the Coronavirus crisis, our results and our business resilience would rank us first.
We’re performing well in June, and we’re poised with two weeks left in the month to achieve higher sales revenue this year than we had in June of 2019. As I type this, I’m aware that there are not many media companies in America right now that are on the cusp of notching a month of year over year growth in June. It fills me with a huge sense of appreciation for the people driving those great results, and it fills me with a resolute feeling of ambition. We are prepared to thrive in the new normal that will define our economy for the next 12 to 24 months.
It feels good to be coming back to full business strength quickly. It’s empowering to be determining our own personal destiny in times that at other companies will be filled with uncertainty. It’s energizing to look at the wide open opportunities in front of us, to take a critical look at ourselves in the mirror, and to be positioning AMP in this second half of the year to grow, add staff, and to efficiently take more market share.
Our current advantageous positioning didn’t come about overnight. It is the culmination of years of responsible business stewardship and months of recent hard work by every person reading this update. As our CEO, I don’t for a minute think that we can wisely view a great second half of the year as inevitable, as ours by right, or with a feeling of entitlement. Instead, the growth, the positive sense of accomplishment, and personal benefits of the actual achievement of what is in front of us will be a matter of execution, focus, high energy, and long hours. I think we’re all ready for that!
I’ll share our current performance trends through the first five months of the year, and discuss the fundamental, factual drivers of the opportunities ahead of us.
1. Year to date, we’ve had GREAT performance.
Coming into March, we had achieved year over year total sales increases seven out of the prior eight months. In January, our total sales were up 15% and they were up 13% in February. In March, as the world began to lock down, we fell just a few thousand dollars short of our 2020 numbers, a near statistical tie. In April and May, when the vast majority of our customers were shut down themselves, we came up meaningfully short of our 2019 stats. In the three and a half month quarantine period, our combined sales were down less than 20%. I’m not the kind of person who celebrates “backward growth” in most circumstances, but I do in fact celebrate our incredibly resilient sales and operational performance during the full period that our offices were closed and during which most of our clients were shuttered. You frankly can’t name another local media company that performed that well during that tough, once-in-a-lifetime period. I am SO proud of the people here, who continued to put up incredible results.
Also coming into March, we had achieved total year over year OPTIMA™ sales increases eight out of the eight prior months, and in March, we extended that streak and notched our ninth consecutive month of year over year OPTIMA™ sales growth. In April, our OPTIMA™ sales dipped, but somewhat incredibly, we grew our total OPTIMA™ sales in May over May 2019. We also came into the Coronavirus period stronger per person, with sales per rep up five out of the six months before March. Then, in March, we actually managed to achieve that mark to make it six out of the past seven months. In both April and May we continued that streak, with monthly sales per person exceeding the same stat from the prior year.
These are exactly the ways you want to be performing as a business in the face of unanticipated challenges. Results like the ones I am proud to describe here are the textbook definition of business stability and exceptional personal character. At a time when many other businesses lost their heads, threw their hands up, or struggled severely, we put up results that are foundational to the growth ahead of us.
2. We’re going to remain purposefully lean right now, even as we focus on growth, taking share, and providing exceptional service to our clients.
Running the business through the quarantine period with a core group of highly effective service, sales, and fulfillment personnel brought us all a little closer to the three most fundamental objectives of our business: (a) Helping customers by selling them our products (b) Providing exceptional service that makes their phones ring and their cash registers sing (c) Renewing them and growing their accounts with us.
During the Coronavirus period, every manager and every senior leader of the business did the work that they initially cut their teeth on when they were new to the business. Karen Bourdage, our Chief Operating Officer, managed the front desk, greeted delivery drivers, cashed checks, answered Customer Service calls, and ran mail drops. Our Vice Presidents of Sales, Brian Franczak, Steve Ruckdaschel, and Melinda Huza made sales calls and closed new advertising customers. Everyone stretched over this period. We got closer to our customers, and closer to fundamentals of what makes a publishing business and a digital agency work for those customers.
When you stretch, you grow. We have a new, urgent understanding of how much opportunity is right in front of us. The “Special Ops” team that ran the office remotely, the “Strike Force” team that transitioned for three months into pure phone sales mode, and our two permanent inside sales teams who both set all time sales records during the Coronavirus period all got stronger as a result of enduring unanticipated change and challenge. With the world returning to a more normal state, we are applying that urgent mindset to the opportunities in front of us. We’ve acclimated ourselves to a mindset of controlling every factor that we can control, and taking every step that we can take to steer through obstacles. That winning attitude is an underpinning of a cultural mindset that leads to professional growth, business growth, and personal accomplishment.
3. We’re poised to come back strong, and quickly, as the world begins to reopen.
We have a history of thriving in recessionary economic times. We grew 42% in 2002 in the months following the post September 11, 2001 economic meltdown. In 2008 and 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, we launched 60 separate new markets.
AMP is built for the economic conditions ahead of us. Our business model fits a recessionary period better than any business model in the media industry.
Why is that?
We sell directive “Moment of Truth” marketing.
We sell the last items seen after a consumer decides they’re going to buy something, but before a consumer selects a particular business to buy from. A consumer never types in a business “near me” search merely out of curiosity or for entertainment; nor does a consumer pick up a phone book merely to browse. Those actions are taken by people serious about calling, visiting and spending with someone very shortly, often in the next few seconds. For business owners, this short time when search turns to selection is the “moment of truth.” Most media companies sell advertising to create a need or to create awareness – that’s radio, billboards, direct mail, newspapers, magazines, etc. We sell advertising to direct purchases. That’s an important distinction. In a tough economy, we are benefited by selling the essential advertising that does not get cut, the advertising that is directive in the ‘moment of truth’ when at the last second search becomes selection. I’m glad I’m not a media company CEO who is trying to sell lead a team selling billboard or radio advertising.
We’re economically diversified.
We sell to new car dealers, but also used car dealers. We sell to new home builders and also to home repair companies. People aren’t going to stop having their hair cut, their cars repaired, their landscaping done. People will need attorneys to settle wills and file divorces; accountants to file taxes, dentists to fill cavities. Some sectors of the economy will continue as though nothing has changed, some will be hard hit, and others will thrive. It’s great to be able to sell to churches and liquor stores, fast food restaurants and fitness centers, insurance companies and funeral homes. We’re benefited by our economically diverse advertiser base. I’m glad I’m not a CEO of a media company that sells exclusively to new car dealers, or to the commercial construction industry, or to other sectors where financing will dry up and new sales opportunities will be reduced to nearly zero for the next few years.
We sell our advertising solutions at the lowest rates in the entire industry.
We’re a low dollar, high volume advertising sales organization built for selling Main Street America – the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. Nobody undercuts us on price. Our whole business is built around working hard to sell and support highly effective and inexpensive advertising solutions that become an essential part of their business. Competitors who built their business models around selling a small number of customers a set of very high priced products are going to hand us market share. I could name the dozens of competitors who adopted that common model, which works well and looks very attractive when the economy is booming. I would certainly not trade seats with their CEOs these days, because our low dollar, high volume model is about to be validated, as it was in 2002, 2008, and 2009.
We came into this period strong. We performed exceptionally well through the Coronavirus period, a true credit to the good people of AMP. With the world now newly reopening for business, it’s time for us to be back on a consistent growth trajectory. The unique characteristics of our business model favor us in the coming economic period. We’re positioned at AMP for a great second half of the year. I recognize that none of this is inevitable and that ALL of it derives from and depends upon the good character of everyone here; our positive, realistic expectations; and our willingness to work hard to write our own destiny.
We’ve come through the recent period strong. There’s a wide, open road in front of us. We’re going to drive a strong July and August, and then use that momentum coming out of a season of crisis to build a great season of huge growth in the final four months of the year.