Newspapers Rethink Approach To Help-Wanted

By: Lucia Moses

As The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s help-wanted advertising started to nosedive a year ago, Classified Advertising Director C. Dean Welch surveyed his recruitment team with a critical eye. As an order-taking sales force, it had served its purpose well. But with fewer recruitment dollars and more competition for them, taking orders by the phone just wasn’t enough. “We could no longer be just customer service, production,” Welch said. “We had to be much bigger on the category.”

Bigger it got. By the end of the year, the recruitment-ad staff at Cox Newspapers Inc.’s flagship had swelled to 63 from 24, with an emphasis on outside sales. Other Cox papers are now going through similar evaluations of their sales forces.

With recruitment revenue down 34.5% industrywide last year, newspapers all over the nation are rethinking how they approach their biggest category of classified advertising — and not just with new products. They’re appointing recruitment czars, creating specialized sales teams, and, in some cases, going outside the industry for talent. For example:

o The Tribune Co. this month created a national recruitment sales team for its 13 newspapers and CareerBuilder, the jobs Web site it co-owns with Knight Ridder.

o North Jersey Media Group Inc. last week united the recruitment-advertising sales for its two dailies — The Record in Hackensack, N.J., and the Herald News in West Paterson, N.J. — and 29 community weeklies under a new position. Michelle Biz?, formerly advertising director of The Olympian in Olympia, Wash., will focus on combination ad sales of the dailies and weeklies, where the company sees the greatest revenue potential.

o The E.W. Scripps Co.’s 21 dailies are hiring recruitment-only sales teams on the recommendation of a task force appointed last fall to look for ways to recoup and grow help-wanted revenue. “We’re really analyzing our local markets: Who are the major employers? Who are our agencies? What kind of relationships do we have with them? What can we do for them?” said Alan M. Horton, Scripps’ senior vice president for newspapers. “Recruiters are some of our biggest advertisers. We haven’t handled them the same way we would handle our biggest retailers.”

Driving the search for expertise outside the newspaper industry is a desire for knowledge of the customer many papers realize they lack, the result of years of selling recruitment ads from behind a desk.

“The challenge is, for many, many years, the business has come to us,” explained Cathy B. Coffey, vice president of advertising for Cox. “We have not gone to the business.”

That’s why the AJC put Jack Jessen, a former cable-TV, dot-com, and human-resources executive, in charge of its new recruitment team.

The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., meanwhile, hired a human-resources veteran, Tony Bernados, two years ago to lead a recharged recruitment-sales effort, and the newspaper now is looking for people with industry-specific experience to be part of a new five-member recruitment group. Bernados’ experience helps him understand the newspaper’s customers, said John P. Wilcox, general manager and executive vice president of Scripps’ Commercial Appeal. As a bonus, Bernados previously worked in the health-care and transportation fields, two of Memphis’ key employment categories.

Wilcox tested this approach when he was publisher of the Ventura County (Calif.) Star by hiring automobile-industry veterans to help sell car ads — and the approach worked. “If we’re not careful,” he said, “we can become almost incestuous.”

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