By: Jennifer Saba Let's just say in preparation for attending any newspaper-related conference these days, I put on my funeral face fully expecting to run into glum and nervous executives who look as if they have aged 20 years since, say, 2006.
That's why I was pleasantly surprised when I landed in Kansas City earlier this week for the Suburban Newspapers of America annual fall publishers' conference. The mood was extremely lively - not wake-lively either.
I'm not the only one who noticed. Take it from John Cribb, principal of Cribb, Greene & Associates, who surely has one of the most difficult jobs in the world as a newspaper broker. Cribb noted a change in attitude this year compared to last: Community newspaper publishers and executives have a sense of optimism that was nowhere to be found in 2008.
Perhaps that's because the Boston Red Sox were bunking down in the same hotel as the conference. One of the catchers - don't ask me who, please, because I have no idea - rode up in a crowded elevator causing one GateHouse executive to shout-out a good luck with boyish enthusiasm.
Or more likely it was because last week, SNA reported that Q2 advertising for community publishers fell 12.4% versus the industry average of a 29% decline, according to the Newspaper Association of America. The Q2 numbers bear out two trends: Community newspapers are weathering this punishing economic environment better than the industry-at-large (I'm looking at you, big metros). And the pace of ad revenue decline is slowing. In Q1, SNA reported that ad revenue fell almost 19%.
John Janedis, senior analyst at Wells Fargo Securities Equity Research, who was a panelist during the keynote presentation, noted the numbers proved that community newspapers are in a stronger position than the metros.
SPEAKING OF ADVERTISING... HERE'S SOME ADVICE
Randy Novak, director of newspaper strategy for NSA media (and also a keynote panelist), said that more and more advertisers are starting to ask about community newspapers. They like they local reach and they are attracted to the hyper-local focus.
That said, help him out! Smaller newspapers need to let NSA know they are around, ready and willing to accept advertising. If a newspaper is not in NSA's database that newspaper could miss an opportunity for ad dollars.
*Update your information too. Switching from a broadsheet to a tab? Let your advertisers know. Shrinking the web-width? Ditto. When an advertiser comes to newspaper with a broadsheet-sized ad, nothing turns them off faster by having to go back and produce one for a tab because the paper neglected to mention the change.
*Don't even think about dropping circulation audits. "It's huge," said Stephanie Stanton, vice president, media operations of Vertis, during a session on securing major and national advertising accounts. "Don't discredit the power of audited circulation."
*Know your digital ABCs. Online advertising is a big opportunity but newspapers make a mistake by not being conversant in say IAB units.
*It's a given that advertisers don't like ad rate increases. Stanton made a point of saying it's actually hurting ROP advertising pushing clients to FSIs. When the first thing out of a newspaper sales rep mouth is the open rate, it's not a good sign.
* Start talking about readership! Deborah Armstrong, senior vice president of Mediaspace Solutions, said on the advertising panel: "We have got to talk readership. Readership is critical!"
*Get your Web metrics on. For smaller papers where the bigger metric firms like might not cover the market, sign on with someone who does, like Quantcast.
When asked about their thoughts about paid content, three newspaper executives had some surprising things to say. During the keynote panel, Mike Gugliotto, president and CEO of Pioneer Newspapers, Jon Rust, co-president of Rust Communications, and Kirk Davis, president and COO of GateHouse Media, all seemed to be weary of putting content behind paywalls.
Rust even said his company has experimented with charging for content and found that one of his property's site that put up a wall not only experienced a drastic drop in traffic but also in print circulation.
ONE LAST THOUGHT
I hear a lot of executives complain about the negative press about newspapers, that the industry only covers the worst news about itself (and shouldn't even do that). Well, newspapers, it's hurting your rep. Novak said it taints the thinking of advertisers who need to be convinced that newspapers are indeed good buys.