Rita Walters gets SNA honors...and tells all!
By Deb Shaw
Maybe it is true that really great sales people are born that way. There’s a lot of debate on the issue but in the case of Rita Walters, it was definitely some innate talent that enabled her to walk into a local shopping mall many moons ago with zero sales training and walk out 3 hours later with the advertising program she and her partner designed completely sold out.
Rita Walters and team at their weekly sales meeting at the Peace Arch News in Surrey, British Columbia.
The way the story goes is that in the late 70’s, with only a basis in customer service from her stint in the banking industry, she joined forces with her new husband Bob to start up a home-buyers magazine in Calgary, Alberta. They soon decided to expand into selling coupons on the back of cash-register tapes and hubby inspired Rita to go to the local mall to sell the promotion with the promise that he would give her all the sales training she would need. Little did she know when she agreed that Bob’s idea of training was to boot her out of the car once at the mall with the imperative that she would learn best if she just went in solo and gave the effort her all. “Angry, but determined to show him I could do it, I spent the next three hours selling the entire program,” says Walters. “The sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I got when I returned to the parking lot to tell him I had finished was enough to convince me I had found my calling.”
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That was a pivotal moment that has served her well and now, some 30 years later, she is the recipient of SNA’s most distinguished honor in advertising. Walters has just been named the 2009 SNA Advertising Director of the Year in recognition of her work at The Peace Arch News in British Columbia.
From Whence She Came
Although her great success at the mall proved she had sales talent, it was almost a full decade later before she got to strut her stuff again. After her children were grown enough for Mom to go back to work full time she took a job as a sales rep at the local shopper which, over time, became the market share leader for local advertising in the town of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Her success fueled a promotion to Sales Manager before the family relocated to Vancouver.
Once settled in Vancouver she spotted an ad in the local paper, the Peace Arch News, for a local sales rep — a job she got and held for 7 years before being promoted to sales manager just over 10 years ago. Her publisher Linda Klitch, who nominated Walters for the SNA honors, says that she was a great rep and an even better sales manager. “She never ceases to amaze me with her outstanding work ethic, dedication and the pride she has in her job, her team and her newspaper. You will never hear Rita say ‘that’s good enough’ and settle for less than excellence. She expects the best from everyone on her sales team and leads by example.”
The Peace Arch News is a 32,000 circulation twice weekly newspaper. The 33 year old publication enjoys loyal readership with 85% market penetration.
They also publish the Peace Arch News Daily which is delivered weekdays to businesses in the community.
The Peace Arch News is owned by Black Press which publishes newspapers and related websites throughout British Columbia, Alberta and the United States.
That determination combined with the talent and leadership skills that have been cultivated over the years have earned Rita the respect of her colleagues, her staff and the community. The local Chamber of Commerce keeps her busy with now 5+ plus years service as its’ Vice President; her sales reps, many of whom were once peers, put her through her paces when she first became their boss but confessed after about a year that they were intentionally trying get her goat and Rita passed their test — her fortitude and professionalism had earned their respect.
One of the reps, Joanne, says she knows Rita was a hard working sales rep from their experience in the field together and now looks to her as a true leader. “Her door is always open and solutions and concerns are addressed promptly. She will call customers, go on calls and gives support personally and professionally.” Another rep, Erin, praises Rita’s encouraging style and remarked that she is constantly teaching her team about the tools they need to succeed. “Rita’s always available to help. She trusts us and most importantly she believes in us,” says Erin. “These qualities allow her to have a clear perception of what she wants from (us) and how to help us achieve every goal that she sets.”
Rules To Live By
Leaders have a sense of mission — vision — that encourages, motivates and rouses men and women to heights to help them achieve that vision.
But Walters also says a sense of humor, the ability to listen and awareness of what’s going on in your workplace and in your community are all critical to successful sales management. Her goal is simple: to help her reps feel a sense of strong team spirit and to guide them to achieve their fullest potential. She knows she works with a talented team of reps and other colleagues and believes that the sense of loyalty that she herself feels towards them, their company and the community they serve is an essential foundation of her personal success.
Leaders make things happen.
And Walters points to the freedom that Black Press encourages among its properties — the freedom to create and develop initiatives unique to the Peace Arch News — as a big part of the 96% share of the ad market she and her team proudly boast.
Leaders set direction.
Walters figured out that one way to overcome the natural cycles of up and down in business was to put her advertising goals on a feature driven course. She points to this strategy as a good way to entice advertisers in reaction to changes in the marketplace; and, a way of keeping ad dollars coming their way by providing clients with multiple feature section options.
She’s inventive and launches various promos to match the current demands. But also knows a winner when she sees one like the Shop Local recurring promotion. Launched more than 15 years ago, the promo now runs twice a year (February & August) with a three week campaign in each of the cycles. Advertisers run an ad a week for the duration of the program and the package includes an editorial style piece about their business. The promo’s got legs — it’s grown from a little over a dozen participants to 72 participants per cycle and is now generating about $60,000 each time it runs.
Other noteworthy feature promotions include Back to School, Sign Me Up, Young at Heart, Home & Garden.
Leaders have integrity.
One of Walters’ colleagues Maureen, the ad controller, says that Rita is about as hard and honest a worker as they come. “I don’t think everyone realizes how much she does for us and the countless hours she spends on her own time making sure that everything goes like clockwork.”
Leaders work hard.
Publisher Klitch says Walters takes great pride in her reps successes and is there to teach and mentor them to their best performance levels and to settle for nothing less. “She doesn’t do it sitting behind her desk,” says Klitch. “She is out in the field showing them how it’s done, not just telling them what to do.”
Leaders appreciate others.
Knowing that she owes her proud achievement of the SNA Ad Director of The Year honors to the hard work of her team and colleagues, Walters visited every department in her company when she got news of the award to say thank you for all of their efforts that enabled her accomplishment.
Leaders set high standards.
Asked for her advice to aspiring Ad Directors, Walters was quick to with this advice:
- Work hard
- Become involved in the community you’re working in
- Always be a team player
- Stay positive no matter what the circumstances
- Be a good listener
Peace Arch News
Join The Celebration
Walters will be feted at the upcoming SNA Fall Publishers’ and Advertising Directors’ Conference during the annual Advertising Awards luncheon on Wednesday, September 23rd. Plan your attendance and meet Rita in person. Plus, you’ll gain tremendous knowledge and go-to resources from this important industry gathering.
SNA Fall Publishers’ and Advertising Directors’ Conference
September 22-25, 2009
Kansas City, MO
COMMUNITY MEDIA — THE INDUSTRY’S GAME CHANGER
SEIZING OPPORTUNITIES DURING A CHANGING MEDIA LANDSCAPE
This gathering is expertly timed to help suburban and community media houses capitalize on the unique opportunities that exist for local media today. Planners have created a compelling, actionable agenda that is intended to provide immediate ROI. Check the full agenda and register online. Learn more
The conference is co-sponsored by Inland Press Association, Kansas Press Association and Missouri Press Association.