Why SNA Launched New Ad Network

By: Jennifer Saba

The subject of a national advertising network has come up before during board meetings of Suburban Newspapers of America (SNA), but this year the organization decided to finally get on the stick. Along with 10 of its member groups (thus far), SNA will launch that network in August.

“We have a great story to tell,” says SNA President Nancy Lane. “The metro daily industry is struggling and we sometimes get lumped into that, but in fact, community newspapers in most cases are in growth modes. We thought to ourselves, national advertisers are looking for ways to reach deeper into communities. Metros aren’t, in many cases, reaching deep enough.”

Currently 10 community newspaper groups, including a subsidiary of SNA, have opted for an ownership stake in the network, ponying up a total of $1 million. The full owners are ASP Westward, American Community Newspapers, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI), GateHouse Media, Schurz Communications, Sun-Times Media Group, and the for-profit subsidiary of SNA, Suburban Newspapers. There are fractional owners too: Rust Communications, Packet Publications, Recorder Community Newspapers, and Holden Landmark Corp.

Owners will receive special benefits as well, including lower commissions. The network, which will handle print and online, extended the invitation for other SNA members to become owners. Lane stresses it will serve the entire community newspaper industry, not just the owners. The SNA represents more than 2,000 community newspapers in the United States and Canada.

The SNA will manage the day-to-day operations and Mid-Atlantic Newspaper Services Inc. (MANSI), a division of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, will serve as a backshop of sorts, handling the databases, billing, and ad verifications.

With the Newspaper Next report pushing collaboration and the Yahoo newspaper alliance at hand, members of SNA decided it was time to start fishing for national ad dollars. “It really got to the point where this was big enough and strong enough to put on our retreat agenda in January,” says Jack Robb, an SNA board member and VP of sales and marketing at CNHI. “Why not us? We have the size, we have the resources, we have the newspapers to put it together.”

Based on the activity of retailers like Home Depot, Kohl’s, and JC Penney using suburban and community newspapers, the SNA thinks that national advertisers will follow its lead. SNA is now fielding more calls from such advertisers as L’Oreal. Says Lane, “We know the need exists.” The network will concentrate on travel and other traditional categories such as financial and political.

Newspaper Services of America CEO Bob Shamberg is intrigued by the prospect, though he says it probably won’t impact the NSA’s buying habits: “From our perspective, we tend to buy newspapers as they are distributed on a very local basis by ZIP code.” That said, Shamberg likes the reach of community papers. “We think suburban newspapers are valuable, and our sense is they have a better- looking future of retaining readers and purchasers than major metros,” he adds.

From an online perspective, Joanna O’Connell, a senior media planner with Avenue A/Razorfish, thinks the network has potential, especially since suburban newspaper sites are now “at very diverse stages” in terms of development and standardization. “Given that it is in the early stages, we would want to be thoughtful in our suggestions to clients,” O’Connell, whose agency represents clients including Apple, Chase, and Best Buy, tells E&P. “After taking an initial look at the network, it has the potential to reach audiences across various local markets.”

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