When asked what the most critical component of their business model is, I believe most news media executives will indicate that their audience is what sets them apart. That makes perfect sense as our audience is the foundation upon which all other aspects such as advertising (both traditional and digital), editorial, events and so forth rest upon—which begs the question, “Are we really doing enough to protect and nurture the most important aspect of our business?”
As I work with many newspapers around the country, I am often amazed at the lack of effort given to the audience foundation of our business. Many companies fail to even prospect for new subscribers in any meaningful way. For the most part, telemarketing, kiosking, crewing, single copy inserts, and direct mail are things of the past. Granted, those are very costly items, but little has been done to replace those efforts other than a clunky subscribe button in the upper right-hand corner of the company’s website.
While most designate few resources toward any type of marketing, branding, advertising, and promotion, they fail in most cases to even promote the value of their second most important element—their content. That begs the second question, “How are you supposed to effectively maximize your ad sales when you neglect the two key ingredients needed to assure success?” Other industries spend enormous sums of money to grow their franchise and pursue growth. But we have this mistaken belief that great content sells itself, and if we only produce better content, all will be well. That is a failed thought and strategy.
Like other issues confronting us, finding the right solutions includes a combination and balance of many initiatives. We must first ask ourselves several questions before we embark on finding the best solution for our company. Are we still going to promote what is still our major source of revenue with print? Are we going all in on digital at the expense of print? Are we going to ride the print runway as long as we can while transitioning into a digital world? How we honestly answer these and other questions will determine our best approach.
I am not going to try and answer each of the questions above, as that would take too long for this column. However, for those still wanting to retain their print franchise as long as the consumer runway permits, here are a few thoughts to consider.
For those with the resources, be selective in the process, but don’t underestimate the power of good old fashion telemarketing and kiosking. With the right combination of offers and incentives, these can still be very productive allowing you to grow your audience base. The days of simply cold calling are essentially over, but with the wealth of data available, you are now able to target demographically with success. In-store sales can still be very productive, especially when partnering with the store or location where you are kiosking. While traditional, these two methods still can produce excellent results and shouldn’t be overlooked.
For those on a tighter budget, look at promoting yourself in ways that drive non-audience revenue as well as new subscribers. It is often thought due to lack of scale that direct mail is for the larger market, but nothing could be further from the truth. With many of the postal programs, you can target households in your area with mail pieces at very affordable rates. Even better, you can create a multi-business mail piece and let your advertisers absorb the cost. I have even seen many newspapers couple their sales pieces with their advertisers and turn that into a revenue machine.
I have discussed membership or loyalty clubs and programs in this column before, but let me mention them once again. Membership clubs and loyalty programs aren’t only a minimum cost of entry in the new consumer world, but they can be profitable.
When our ad reps sell advertising, one of the hooks we use is a business must advertise to be relevant in the marketplace. Maybe it is time that we look inward and follow our own advice. Form partnerships with your competitors, such as radio, TV stations and other media to promote each other.
Lastly, if you really want to grow your audience, make local your mission. Lead the charge and efforts of turning your community into a 5-Star Truly-Local Community. Just providing local content is no longer enough, the local content must be strategic and targeted. As a sidenote, for those interested, Truly-Local, LLC (truly-localllc.com) is assisting up to 50 markets on this project at no cost to the newspaper.
Growing audience is critical—that is the future of your franchise and the industry. Leave no stone unturned, be aggressive, and be innovative. The communities are seeking your leadership, so let’s give it to them.
John Newby is the founder of the 360 Media Alliance. He also authors the weekly column, “Building Main Street, not Wall Street,” which focuses on bringing local media and their communities closer together through common synergies and causes to grow revenue. He can be reached at john@360MediaAlliance.net.