You’re replacing someone. Now what?

November 4, 2013

By John Foust

I was talking to Angela about her early days at her newspaper. “When I moved into this sales job, a lot of clients asked about the person I replaced. Most of them asked innocent questions about how that person was doing. But some of them were nosy and persistent. I figured the best strategy was to stay upbeat.”

It’s a big challenge to step into a new position, whether it’s a result of account reassignments or a matter of replacing someone who has left the newspaper. By being upbeat, Angela was on the right track. People transition in and out of jobs and sales territories all the time—and the new person has some control of how those changes are perceived. Here are three points to keep in mind:

1. Be positive. Never say anything negative about the person you’re replacing. “Early on, I decided to avoid saying things that I wouldn’t say if my predecessor were in the room,” Angela said. “There’s nothing to be gained by criticism, even if that person left under negative circumstances.

“It’s smart to prepare some positive comments—things that are true, things you can say with sincerity. For example, you can say something like, ‘I appreciate your concern. Joe developed some ad strategies, which got great results for his accounts.” Or ‘Joe told me how much he enjoyed working with you. I’m sure his old accounts will miss him.’ ”

2. Don’t gossip. It’s human nature for clients to want to hear the details—good or bad—of how and why their former representative is no longer handling their advertising. And it’s natural to want to please their curiosity. That’s why even the most innocent question calls for self-discipline.

“Just because people are curious doesn’t mean I have to answer inappropriate questions,” Angela explained. “I found it helpful to say, ‘I appreciate your interest in Joe, but I wasn’t here at the time, so I really can’t answer your question.’ I kept my comments as neutral as possible.”

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

Which leads us to the next point.

3. Help your clients look forward, not backward. Advertisers—like consumers—are motivated by self-interest. Change represents a possible threat to what was a predictable relationship with your paper.

Here’s a new beginning. A clean slate. An invitation to discuss ideas.

The first order of business is to reassure your accounts that you have their best interests at heart—and that their marketing is in good hands with your newspaper. “In the beginning it’s all about establishing rapport,” Angela said. “When I had initial conversations with existing accounts, I just tried to get to know them and let them see that I cared about their businesses. And like always, I was on the lookout for potential ideas and promotions.”

“Funny thing about ideas,” she continued. “When you get good ones—ideas that generate business for your advertiser—they’ll stop talking about the good old days.” © John Foust 2013. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information

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