Magazine article Management Review

Bob Sandelman: The Shopper Stopper

Magazine article Management Review

Bob Sandelman: The Shopper Stopper

Article excerpt

Bob Sandelman: The Shopper Stopper

When you step off the elevator at Bob Sandelman's floor, he gets your attention immediately. That's because he has set up a billboard in his New York office welcoming you by name to Robert Brian Associates, the sales promotion firm he started 35 years ago.

That illustrates one of his main philosophies concerning point-of-sale displays: Time is of the essence. You have to get a shopper's attention in four seconds flat or your promotion is a failure, he says.

Sandelman, now 61, claims to be the first to start an agency devoted to developing the art of sales promotion. It was a specialty that was largely ignored for three decades until "media dollars started flowing away from the advertising agencies and into sales promotion," he explains. "That's when the agencies realized they were in trouble. Up until then, they didn't recognize us," he adds.

Sales promotion is now so much in vogue that in March his firm became the sales promotion affiliate for the Lowe Marschalk advertising agency. As part of this partnership, Lowe Marschalk will introduce Sandelman's agency to its client list, which includes Johnson & Johnson, Xerox Corp., Citicorp, and Coca-Cola Foods.

For those who question the need for an advertising agency to ally with a promotion agency--many agencies have handled promotions themselves for several years--Sandelman has a quick response. "Sales promotion is a selling message in a medium the client owns--generally packaging," he explains. Advertising, on the other hand, is "a selling message in a medium the client rents"--such as magazines, newspaper, and television, says Sandelman. He learned the difference back in the 1940s at New York University's School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance, which later became NYU's business school.

"The difference between the two is the medium, not the message," asserts Sandelman. But he doesn't stop there. He adds another concept that seems obvious but often isn't: To find out what consumers think, you have to talk to them where they stop.


"Clients don't know what their problems are" because they don't get out into the field and do legwork, according to Sandelman. "It never occurs to them to talk to consumers," he continues. "But how can you run a brand if you don't talk to consumers in a supermarket?" That's the void his agency hopes to fill. "We're not smarter than our clients. We'll just take the time to identify the problem more succinctly than they will," he says.

Just how does his agency accomplish that? If a client's product is sold in grocery stores, the only logical move is to fly out to a city, take a cart, wheel down the aisles, and talk to consumers as they shop, he says.

On such trips Sandelman and his staff also talk to store managers and buyers. That's because he believes all successful promotions must cater to three audiences: the sales force, the trade, and the consumer. "The store buyer is a compendium of information," he explains. "After he meets with you about Anacin, he may meet with someone else about Tylenol, and with another promoter about Bayer. He knows everything that is happening."


For the trade, the promotion has to be plausible, guaranteed to generate more business and profits, he stresses. Yet many manufacturers often don't care about pleasing that all-important audience. "They're often arrogant and rich and think, `We'll teach those guys a thing or two; after all, all they've got is shelves and lights," he continues.

But a good promotion will blend the store's needs with those of the consumer and the manufacturer. As an example, Sandelman cites a promotion he did for Royal gelatin. Interviews with supermarket shoppers revealed their preference for General Foods' Jell-O over Nabisco's Royal, even though Royal was cheaper. …

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