With Empowerment & Negotiation Workshops, A+E Networks Offers a Distinct Approach to Client Support

By A+E Networks InSites Archives
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In advertising sales, there's nothing like the human touch. When media sales executives collaborate with clients and agency counterparts, it creates marketing magic. That focus on people is a central tenet at A+E Networks and extends to helping clients manage stress, career advancement and work-life balance.

To support clients and foster connections, A+E Networks partnered with Columbia Law School professor, author and negotiation expert Alex Carter to create a series of Empowerment & Negotiation Workshops for brand and agency executives that address personal and professional challenges and promote negotiation skills.

As new technology, including programmatic and artificial intelligence, make it faster and easier to buy ads, A+E is embracing advancements, but not at the expense of true client relationships.

"It's so important to engage the individual to gain trust, promote honesty, and promote transparent dialogue. People are critical to this business," explained Vice President of Ad Sales Marketing Pam Graham. "Sales is about building relationships, and what does that better than shared experiences?"

Adapted from a sales training Carter led for A+E's sales team, the Empowerment & Negotiation Workshops kicked off in 2021 and offer a service above-and-beyond industry norms. Graham said client relationships go beyond meetings and pitches. "It's about connecting and creating a community," she noted.

When the pandemic upended everyday life, A+E Networks wanted to help uplift clients. Brand marketing and media agency executives shared that they were beleaguered and fatigued. Women, in particular, struggled to maintain a work-life balance.

At first glance, hosting seminars on female empowerment and negotiations doesn't seem like A+E Network's purview. However, Senior Vice President of Ad Sales Nicole Durette said kindness, inclusion, collaboration and supporting one another are part of the company's ethos. The classes are an opportunity to deepen connections, help colleagues, and align with the mission of one of A+E's core brands, Lifetime, to uplift women. It's a new extension of client services.

"We think of ourselves as a boutique sales organization where you'll get great customer service," Durette explained. "We're not the biggest publisher, so we have to play a different game in this marketplace. We pride ourselves on being solution-oriented, providing resources and support to our clients in any way we can."

For the first workshop in the summer of 2021, A+E invited eight female executives to an intimate gathering at a small historic inn, The George, in Montclair, N.J. With Covid cases surging, many people were reluctant to attend large gatherings, so Graham said they needed a comfortable space and a small group. To ease the burden of traveling, A+E opted to host events across the New York area, including Westchester County, Manhattan and Connecticut.

"We challenged ourselves to figure out how to slowly enter back into client engagement in a way that felt comfortable and safe," Graham said. "Our goal was to extend the brand in a way to make us memorable."

Before each event, Carter researched the participants and their companies to familiarize herself with their work. She circled the room over cocktails, asking the women about their biggest concerns. Then, during the discussion circle, she addressed those concerns, and women shared their insights and experiences.

At early events, participants discussed the challenges of managing teams remotely and nurturing their careers while juggling responsibilities for children and elderly parents during a pandemic.

"People were pulled in a million directions all day long, from work to home life back to work and so on," Durette said.

Some women didn't even have a quiet space at home to claim as an office. Carter offered suggestions to navigate challenges, such as negotiating for home office space and asking managers for resources. Participants weighed in with advice and best practices.

"It became this wonderful environment where people shared their vulnerability, and everyone wanted to help each other. Alex provided coaching for everyone," Durette recalled.

The inaugural workshop was such a resounding success that A+E recently expanded to Atlanta and will be hosting Boston later this year. A+E also plans to reunite early groups for additional classes to keep conversations flowing.

While the early Empowerment & Negotiation Workshops focused on women, Graham said they've also started to invite men. A+E has also offered workshops for its own rising sales executives to help them build interpersonal skills and manage client relationships.

Recently, as more companies return to in-person work, Graham and Durette said the conversations have evolved. Timely topics include hybrid work, career advancement and how to retain talent. Readjusting to office life also means returning to commutes and finding childcare. One participant wanted advice on championing a rising star on her team to stay at the company.

"It's so important to create moments and have conversations outside of business," Graham said.

Participants have started to build their own communities, connecting after events over email and LinkedIn. Some women have successfully negotiated for promotions and additional resources. One participant adapted the class to share with her team.

And while doing good is A+E's primary motivation, the workshops have been a boon to business. While some participants are long-time clients, others are new contacts.

"We're building a lot of trust and a new comfort level, this approach is opening new doors for us," Durette noted. "We're fortifying the relationships we have and creating valuable new ones."

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