Sales Champions

by: Adreana Young

Sales Champions

In the hard-hit market of newspaper publishing, it can be difficult to find successful revenue generating sales and advertising solutions. The good news is it isn’t impossible.

E&P spoke with six newspapers filled with sales and advertising champions that have created new and improved strategies in hopes of finding more revenue, building stronger advertiser relationships and increasing brand recognition. It’s this kind of forward thinking that will push the industry across the finish line.


Growing a “State of Opportunity”

In October 2014, Gannett Wisconsin Media launched the State of Opportunity program to help connect Wisconsin job seekers with information and advice on jobs in the community. The program was launched after all 10 of Gannett Wisconsin Media’s newspapers heard about the job skill gap between job seekers and the current workforce.

“To help our communities, Gannett Wisconsin Media has developed a layered multimedia approach to communicate the rich career and educational opportunities that we have in Wisconsin and will have in the future,” said Scott Johnson, president and publisher at Green Bay Press-Gazette and Press-Gazette Media. “This endeavor is a long-term effort to connect job seekers, parents, and students with the stories, videos, and advice on what jobs are really like.”

Every other week, each Gannett Wisconsin Media newspapers features a particular career, and writes stories, creates video content and puts out columns by a career coach for readers.

While the strategy is simple, it has made a big impact. Johnson said that through the media group’s 10 daily newspapers the State of Opportunity is able to reach nearly 800,000 readers, educating students, parents and job seekers about training needed for jobs, pay and other information. Additionally, the State of Opportunity has brought in $400,000 in revenue from sponsors, said Johnson. Even before the idea was brought to the staff, Johnson and the leadership at Gannett Wisconsin Media had already secured $200,000 in sponsor commitments.

In order to prepare for this huge undertaking, Johnson said sales staff training took place statewide. For the State of Opportunity sales staffs, the Gannett Wisconsin Media newspapers had to focus on brand advertising because many of the sponsors for the program were non-traditional customers.

“We encouraged them to do more brand advertising, and we had a content plan that we shared with the sales staff so they would know when we would be writing about IT or welding and so on,” he said.

State of Opportunity was initially supposed to run only for nine months, but due to its success with advertisers and readers, State of Opportunity 2.0 is currently in the planning stages. Johnson and his team is working on a year of content for the program this coming fall.



Finding the best in Aylmer

While best of contests are nothing new for newspapers, the Aylmer Bulletin’s contest has increased the newspaper’s brand in the community as well as its revenue, according to operations manager Sophie Ryan.

Over the last three years, the best of section has brought in about $25,000. This year’s Best of Aylmer Reader’s Choice contest brought in $12,000 alone for the Bulletin.

Ryan was first inspired to start the campaign by a newspaper in Vancouver. Aylmer is a smaller city outside of Canada’s capitol Ottawa and has many independent businesses that Ryan wanted to promote and support.

“We wanted to celebrate and thank the entrepreneurs,” she said. “Me and my sister (Lily Ryan, Bulletin editor) own an independent newspaper, so we understand what it’s like.”

The Bulletin’s best of contest lasts about eight weeks. They have ballots for voters in print and online, and businesses are encouraged to buy advertisements and promote their business in the paper during the contest.

The Bulletin’s best of contest presently consists of 50 categories broken up into six groups including best restaurants, best professionals, best personal care, best things to do, best stores and best miscellaneous. After the votes are tallied, the Bulletin hosts a gala for the businesses and hands out awards to the winners.

Although Ryan said the contest now generates great excitement in the community, getting momentum proved to be challenging.

“It took a bit of working out to get all of the departments involved,” she said. “But, once we saw how excited the public was, everyone was on board.”

Now, the Bulletin wants to branch out to other regions near the city. Ryan said they’re reaching out to their sister papers, the West Quebec Post and the Pontiac Journal to get them involved as well. They also want to make the contest bigger and better. Ryan said they plan on adding more categories, more sponsors, and getting more city politicians involved to sponsor categories to help show their support for local businesses.


Exploring native advertising

When Jaci Smith’s then-publisher came to her with the idea of bringing native advertising to the Faribault (Minn.) Daily News, the self-described hard-nosed journalist’s response was “Hell, no, I’m not writing an ad.”

However, after six months of research and winning a fellowship with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute for 2014-2015, the former managing editor said she now believes native advertising is the future of newspaper advertising.

During her fellowship, Smith dedicated herself to learning and understanding native advertising: from the definition, to the ethics, to how it would be implemented at her newspaper. After creating a standard PowerPoint presentation for potential clients, Smith and her team hosted a lunch-and-learn event for clients they believed would get on board with native advertising to help them better understand the advertising strategy. Smith reported that just six months into the program, she and her team produced about 70 native ads including slideshows, galleries, videos, listicles, articles, columns, quizzes and infographics.

After working with native advertisements for 18 months, Smith said the strategy has increased the amount of time readers spend with each advertisement online by nearly a minute. Smith said that readers spend only about 5 to 7 seconds with an online display ad versus 1 to 1:15 minutes with native ads.

The key to successful native advertisements is to write them like a typical news story. Smith said the paper’s first native ad in the Home and Garden section could have been a story, it just happened to be paid for.

However, to ensure transparency and uphold the newspaper’s ethical standards, Smith said that no more than 20 percent of a section on the Daily News’ website can contain native advertising, and it is clearly labeled with a bright green box that says “sponsored.”

In addition to transparency and ethics, Smith said it is important to educate clients and ad consultants on what native advertising is because many people didn’t understand it when she first brought the idea to them.

Because of the extra time native advertisements take to create, Smith said she learned that they needed to price it accurately. Smith said originally they underpriced for the product, but raised their price to match the work.

Despite finding some success with native advertising, the Daily News decided to halt the project in favor of other advertising projects, primarily an increase in programmatic targeted digital advertising, according to Sam Gett, Daily News publisher and vice president of development for APG Media of Southern Minnesota.

“We have not given up on native advertising and believe it has the potential to evolve into an important component of our portfolio,” he said. “But there is work to do to develop the processes post-fellowship and make sure that our sales teams are comfortable presenting it as an option.”

Smith will resume her role as managing editor, but she said she’d like to return to writing native advertisements and helping the advertising and editorial departments break down the silos between them.

“Never give up. Innovation, disruption, whatever you want to call it, is messy,” said Smith. “But I learned that I want to be part of finding the solution for the future growth of our industry. I’m no longer content to sit by the sidelines with the ‘woe is newspapers’ crowd. I want to be out there looking for the answers.”


Supporting local businesses

In August 2006, The Messenger ran its first vendor section when a trucking company opened a new office in the Fort Dodge, Iowa. The newspaper wanted to celebrate the company’s achievement by showcasing the business.

“We had a lot of success with (the first vendor section),” said David Jakeman, the newspaper’s advertising director. “We thought we could use a couple more of these every year. This is a real opportunity for us.”

To date, the newspaper has produced 50 vendor sections. Each one highlights new businesses or business anniversaries and includes two to four articles, photographs, a timeline of the business, history and more in exchange for advertising from the business.

According to Jakeman, the size and price of each insert depends on what each business wants. Some businesses want an eight page tabloid and others want all gloss. Researching and creating each vendor section takes at least four weeks to produce, but they like to have six to eight weeks to create them.

The close-knit business community in Fort Dodge makes it a perfect community for this type of promotion.

“We’re a community of less than 30,000. We like to think every business here likes to help each other out because they know that other businesses help the economy,” Jakeman said.

According to Jakeman, the most difficult part of the vendor sections is planning ahead. With so much time needed to create the newspaper inserts, it can be difficult to hear about openings or anniversaries with enough time in advance. And because the vendor sections rely on anniversaries and new businesses arriving in town, the vendor sections and the revenue they draw can sometimes be sporadic.

Still, The Messenger produces at least one new vendor section on a quarterly basis. “It seems like when we’re doing one a lot pop up and then we’ll go three or four months without getting one, so you can’t always rely on it,” Jakeman said.

After publishing the section, the newspaper gives each business about 500 extra copies to keep on file, to use as advertising and for promotional events. This helps businesses with long-term marketing and branding while building a stronger relationship between The Messenger and the business.

“I was at the trucking company’s office for an event and they had the vendor section on every table. This was two years after it ran,” Jakeman said. “I believe that readers still find tremendous value in the touch and feel print publications. In this small to medium sized hometown market, the predominant way that our readers choose to read us is through the print version. I don’t see that changing just yet.”

Jakeman said that 90 percent of the companies who pay for vendor sections were already advertisers and they continue to be advertisers. With that kind of success and the support from local businesses, Jakeman said The Messenger plans to create vendor sections for as long as they can.


A “market for profit”

As president and chief executive officer of the Reading (Pa.) Eagle, Peter Barbey wanted the newspaper to reach the rural countryside because he knew there was a market for profit there. So, in September 2012, the Reading Eagle launched Berks Country, a magazine insert focused on rural lifestyle and is included inside the Reading Eagle every Wednesday.

Over the past three years, Berks Country has brought in more revenue than the newspaper’s digital products, slowed down circulation loss, and increased the paper’s brand, said Barbey.

The magazine insert features long-form human interest pieces, home and farm profiles, rural issues and has gained the attention of not only those who live in the rural suburbs, but urban dwellers as well.

“It started out as an initiative to reach one market, but it’s turned into something everyone wants,” said Anne Chubb, executive director of advertising and marketing.

In order to gain an audience, the advertising team performed focus groups and put out surveys asking people in the rural areas what they wanted to see in the magazine.

“When you start asking your readers what they want to see, and then you give it to them, that’s when you’ll have success,” Chubb said. “You talk about lessons learned, talk to your readers.”

In addition to capturing audiences, Berks Country has also captured more advertisers. Restaurants and retailers that cater specifically to rural areas and advertisements for county fairs fill Berks Country and bring in revenue for the Reading Eagle.

According to Chubb, there was an average of 45 percent increase in revenue per edition when Berks Country was first launched in 2012; the next year, the newspaper saw an average 17 percent increase in revenue per edition and in 2014, it was at 14 percent.

In order to achieve those numbers, the Reading Eagle hired a sales representative to focus solely on Berks Country. Chubb said that sales representative is familiar with the rural areas and attends the events, giving the magazine a presence in the community.

Going forward, Barbey said the Berks Country brand will continue to evolve. Upcoming initiatives include a radio show called Hello, Berks Country and a festival called Berks Country Fest.


Brand power

Inspired by the New York Times’ store, the Record newspaper in New Jersey opened up in October 2013, offering online shoppers Record newspaper branded merchandise, unique keepsakes, custom prints/reprints, gift ideas, fine art and posters and more.

President of North Jersey Media Group Stephen Borg said demand for the merchandise was immediate. They had orders the first day the site went live, he said.

Borg said he expects to bring in $100,000 this year in new revenue, about a 10 percent growth. In order to promote the store, Borg said they market it in the Record, community newspapers, magazines and online as well as utilizing the media group’s events division. In return, the store also promotes the Record by offering a 10 percent discount to subscribers.

Because offers Record branded merchandise, some of the shops products come straight from their archives, while others come from vendors and local artists.

While the store has been successful so far, Borg said the greatest challenge is finding new inventory for customers. Still, Borg said he has been a bit surprised by the success of the store because some of the merchandise available at is available elsewhere, but customers are still purchasing it through them. Borg said it’s important to promote the business, especially for special occasions.

“We have to pay attention to events like Mother’s Day and the like,” he said. “We are a retailer now.”

The success of the store comes from the Record’s trusted brand and because the site is simple to use, said Borg. “They (the customers) trust that the merchandise is legitimate, and they know somebody is here, a live person, should they have a problem.”

The Record plans to continue to add more merchandise to the online retail store. will review any and all legal products and they attend conventions to find unique art and merchandise, the more unique the better, Borg said.

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