What is it going to take for newspaper organizations to retain—if not grow—their advertising support, particularly in a competitive field with so many others vying for brands’ ad spends? What does it take to reignite the allure of ad campaigns that creatively build upon the publishers’ platforms—campaigns that leverage the strength of mobile, desktop, web and print?
To better prepare for the New Year and the new relationships newspapers will have with advertisers, the industry requires a point of reference about what’s challenging advertising revenues now. E&P asked advertising professionals (from ad reps to senior executives) about the greatest obstacles their ad teams are currently facing, the objections or reasons for reluctance from advertisers—across all the products and publications—and how they’re winning back the hearts of advertisers and changing their minds.
Conveying the Power of Print
According to Logan Osterman, advertising director for the Idaho Statesman in Boise, he and his team are accustomed to hearing plenty of objections from advertisers, mostly in relation to print advertising.
“They may say, ‘We don’t do print’ or ‘Print doesn’t work for us anymore,’ or ‘Our audience doesn’t read print.’ If you look at objections, percentage wise, I’d say that’s far and away the biggest challenge. As soon as you get a foot in the door, you’re branded or labeled as ‘the newspaper,’” Osterman said.
His team isn’t in the habit of “pushing” advertisers to buy into any program for which they’re not comfortable, but the objection to print is often overcome by noting its reach and effectiveness.
“If we think there’s an opportunity for the advertiser to benefit from print, we usually go in with some market research. If there’s an objection to a print campaign, we inform them that the audience is actually more than 130,000 people who read the newspaper every day—many, every single morning,” Osterman said. “We may ask if that’s surprising or if it’s what they expected to hear.
“Increasingly, our reps are leading with digital solutions, instead,” he continued. “We’re rebranding ourselves and showing that we can help our advertisers with a lot more than just print advertising.”
Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star advertising director Natalia Wiita thinks the reluctance expressed to her ad team probably mimics what other ad professionals around the industry hear as recurring themes.
“I’d say the most common, usually, boil down to advertisers stating that people aren’t reading the newspaper like they used to, that we are too expensive, or that they may not have the budget available,” she said.
Fortunately, Wiita said, the team has been able to dispel those worries. “When we hear, ‘People aren’t reading the newspaper like they used to,’ I think it’s important to address that, yes, our readers are now reading our content on a variety of platforms, which is only resulting in a larger audience for us and our advertisers.”
When advertisers challenge the publisher on rates, Wiita and the team are equipped to talk specifically about compelling numbers for cost per piece or cost per household, for example.
Objections do vary depending on platform, Wiita noted. In the case of print, the reasons are often related to audience or cost, though Wiita said that “objections” may be too strong a word to describe these perfectly typical conversations.
“With web or mobile buys, we may hear that ROI is too difficult to measure, or that the business doesn’t have a website or landing page to drive readers to,” she said.
Lance Lewis hears similar statements daily. He’s an advertising sales executive with the Gettysburg Times in Pennsylvania. In his estimation, the most common concerns from advertisers are: “Newspaper circulation is decreasing; it’s not a viable method of reaching the public. Newspaper advertising is too expensive on a per capita basis. Print is not a creative way to convey a message in the digital age.”
The good news is that the ad team at the paper is well-prepared to acknowledge the concerns and calm them.
In response to the first objection about readership, Lewis said, “It is true that in metro areas circulation is shrinking; however, we have found that in smaller markets that circulation has remained either level or is actually growing. I always cite Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in small market papers to support this.”
Regarding return on investment, he said, “Per capita advertising cost depends solely on if you are reaching your target audience. If you are attempting to reach millennials in print, your ROI will be higher than if you are attempting to reach Boomers.”
Finally, to counter the assumption that print is somehow underwhelming as a creative platform, Lewis pointed out, “Creativeness in print can be overcome by utilizing print as a referral method to digital advertising, which I have seen to be very successful.”
Using Data and Targeted Marketing
Data seems to drive so much of the publishing organization today, especially in the digital space. Today, data can glean so much more insight for advertisers, which they need to effectively target their ads, even if they don’t yet know it.
“Readership numbers have gotten less and less important over the years,” Osterman said. “It seems that advertisers aren’t quite as interested in them, even when they’re presented with media audit information that dispels their own notions; so, we’re frequently talking more about digital data than we are about readership or traditional metrics like that.
“A lot of the time, the advertiser doesn’t actually express that they want data. It’s more about trying to entice them to want it,” he added.
Osterman offered data from Borrell Associates as an example.
“We might suggest to the advertiser, ‘You might not want to see the readership figures for the paper, but if I can help you understand what other businesses in your category are spending on various kinds of media, in this market, would that be interesting to you?’ And it is,” he said. “That is an extra value for the advertiser and insight that they would otherwise have to pay a lot of money for.”
The New Ad Sales Pro
The conversations that advertising reps are having with ad buyers these days are far more sophisticated and consultative in nature than they were when print was the sole product to sell. The conception and creation of the advertising program is also far more creative and collaborative than before.
“The more information and feedback that we receive from both current advertisers and those that aren’t doing business with us, the better,” Wiita said. “I’m a big fan of feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, as it allows us to adapt and change to suit the needs of the market. I would say that most of the feedback we’ve received as to where clients who aren’t spending with us are spending their budgets generally comes down to a lack of knowledge of the services we can provide.
“More often than not, new clients are not familiar with the fact that we are not only a newspaper, but that we offer a full suite of digital solutions, produce a wide variety of niche publications, have an events department that produces large-scale and custom events, and operate an in-house ad agency. There is no better feeling than sitting down with a new client and walking them through the wide variety of ways that we can help them grow.”
At the Idaho Statesman, Osterman’s team has adapted to a more consultative approach.
“We follow a multi-step sales process, which is very much based on doing research and essentially interviewing the client. Then, we offer solutions that fit, which is opposed to the ‘old way’ of selling audience and pushing product,” he said.
To be effective, the salesperson must be rebranded, too—from ad sales to media consultant. The new role of ad reps includes having conversations about where reluctant advertisers and their marketing agents are investing their ad spends, and why they are perceived as a better buy.
Osterman said, “We try to crack open that conversation about why they’re spending elsewhere, especially in the digital space. Is it that the others are actually doing a better job than our digital team can do, or is just because the site is new and has a trendy look? We find that there are a ton of fly-by-night operations that we can far out-perform when it comes to creating multi-faceted digital campaigns.
Plus, in the end, those publications are not the newspaper.
Osterman cited a favorite quotation by businessman and author Stephen M.R. Covey, who said, “Trust is equal parts character and competence.”
“A lot of times, businesses don’t trust us to handle their digital (messaging). In their eyes, we may not be ‘competent,’ though we have the character,” he explained. “They know us. They know who we are, so we have the character, but we haven’t done enough work to show them that we’re competent in the digital space and that we’ve trained up as well.”
The implication is that, while newspapers are known to have digital complements now—the web, web mobile and mobile apps—they’re not perceived as being leaders or particularly innovative for those efforts, at least not yet.
“The winning scenario is we build on the character that we’ve already established and prove that we’re a digital force,” Osterman said. “In some cases, they may be turning to a digital advertising alternative that’s merely using an off-the-shelf technology for something as important as search engine optimization. Meanwhile, we have a fully staffed team of extremely talented marketing professionals at their disposal. They may not know we have that expertise.”
Wiita said at the Lincoln Journal Star, they’re accustomed to hearing that ad budgets have been sliced, leaving less of the pie to portion out.
“The budget objection is obviously a very common objection in sales, and while in some cases it may be valid, most of the time, if a consultant gets this objection, they haven’t sold the agency or the advertiser on the value of the program,” she said. “We do a lot of training and role playing with our staff on getting the value proposition right.”
Prove Your Worth
Certainly one of the greatest challenges that advertising sales teams have faced in recent years is reinforcing the advertising value proposition of the news organization. When asked if advertisers generally still understand and buy into that value proposition, Osterman said definitively, “No.”
“I think newspapers, in general, are behind the times of self-promotion, especially compared to broadcast and radio,” he said. That needs to change, and he suggested that educating advertisers—and the public—about what the newspaper does for its readers and advertisers must start at the highest levels of the organization, at the publisher level and certainly among marketing teams.
Beyond evangelizing the value of the news organization, sales teams need to be prepared to come to the table with real solutions based on the expressed needs of the advertiser. But the work doesn’t stop there. Then, they must be able to prove ad effectiveness, and do that with every single program, with every single digital or print display and insert advertiser.
And about the “character” part of the trust equation that Osterman suggested?
Lewis concurred and pointed out that character, integrity and a record of getting the stories right have a tremendous impact on value proposition messaging. “When I discuss newspapers as a viable and reliable source of news, I point to issues such as the Dan Rather story regarding former President Bush’s service in the Air National Guard, the recent election and how it totally caught the broadcast media off guard, and now this ‘fake news’ on the web regarding a Hillary Clinton sex ring in D.C. The print media is still, in my humble opinion, the only truly investigative news source available.”
“I do think that advertisers believe in our value proposition,” Wiita said. “However, it’s important that we continue telling our story as an industry. While our industry is changing, it’s not a bad thing. People read our content now more than ever, and our audiences are larger than ever before…I think it’s important that we acknowledge that change is good and that all industries have been forced to adapt to a digital world.”
Gretchen A. Peck is an independent journalist who has reported on publishing and printing for more than two decades. She has contributed to Editor and Publisher since 2010 and can be reached at email@example.com.