Marketing Tips for an Online Newspaper Service

By: Steve Outing

Here's more from the InfiNet affiliates meeting I attended last week. One of the more interesting sessions was on marketing strategies for newspaper online services.

Launching a new Web service

George Frink of the Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer-Times reported on preparations for launch in the coming weeks of a new Web newspaper service and Internet access business (in affiliation with InfiNet, which is a newspaper-owned Internet service provider). The marketing push is already under way, with several components:

* Teaser ads. As you would expect, the primary advertising vehicle is the newspaper itself. The Observer-Times already is running teaser ads, such as one with several computer mice driving along a road. Accompanying copy reads "New Highway Connects Fayetteville to the World." A schedule for placement was set up well in advance, inserting a number of full, half and quarter-page ads throughout the paper. As launch gets closer, teaser ads give way to more traditional offers to sign up for the service.

* A special home computing section of the newspaper will feature coverage of the new online offering as well as advertisements. * Fayetteville is a military town, and the online service reflects that heritage in its design and content, Frink says. The newspaper is placing paid ads in key local military publications in hopes of selling Internet accounts to armed forces personnel, many of whom are stationed far from home and are prime candidates for using email to communicate with family and friends.

* Flyers promoting the service are being inserted in statements mailed to newspaper subscribers.

* The paper will run a "community meeting" in November to promote the new service and teach local residents about the Internet. Door prizes will serve as incentive for attending, and the event is being promoted by advertisements and flyers.

* In cooperation with a local community college, the Observer-Times is co-sponsoring a 3-day, 9-hour class on how to use the Internet -- again using advertising and flyers to promote the class. Computer novices will learn the wonders of the Internet and find out how to sign up for access... with the Observer-Times/InfiNet Internet access service.

College can "train your customers"

I frequently recommend that newspapers operating online services not go it alone, allying with other organizations when it makes sense. Creating an alliance with a local community college can be of great advantage to a newspaper. Here's how:

Peter Shaw, a representative of Tidewater Community College in Virginia, told the InfiNet affiliates that his school will "train your customers" on how to use the Internet and your online service. "We teach, you sell the class."

Some community colleges will teach a class at no cost to the newspaper, since the paper runs ads promoting the class and the school gains new students and revenues. The newspaper wins by having more people in the community have the skills to use its Internet service.

Other schools, like Tidewater, expect to be paid to teach a class that's geared toward a newspaper's needs. "But we work cheap," said Tidewater representative Dane Young. He also pointed out that the class can serve as a needed feedback channel for your online service. "They'll tell us things about your service (as an impartial third party) that they won't tell you."

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

If you have a newsworthy item about the newspaper new media business, please send me a note.

This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

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