Media Staffing Network Releases 2020 Newspaper Compensation Study Results


Welcome to our first annual newspaper sales compensation study. In combination with America’s Newspapers and Editor and Publisher, Media Staffing Network is happy to share this important data with you. We currently survey radio, television and now newspapers. All studies are located on our website  to help media owners and operators better research recent trends affecting talent acquisitions. With annual surveys across various media platforms, we can offer more insight into what it will take to attract, hire and retain top sales talent by tracking changes from year to year.

This year our timing for the survey was in mid-summer, so we were well into the pandemic. As we continue to see changes stemming from this crisis, we feel that our information will be timely for those in the budget process.

Let’s start by examining who responded. We had 223 responses from across the U.S. and Canada: 65.5 percent were managers or publishers with 8.1 percent being sellers; 44.4 percent were from publications with a circulation of less than 10,000; 23.8 percent have circulation between 10,000 and 20,000, with 15.3 percent serving 40,000 plus; and 52.9 percent publish weekly, 42.2 percent publish daily and 3.6 percent publishing monthly.

Most publications, 61 percent of respondents, employ one to five sellers, with 25.1 percent employing six to 10 sellers and 13.9 percent employing more than 11 sellers. A large majority—a whopping 96.4 percent—stated that they have between one and five sales managers. For the majority, this appears to be pretty much the same as before the pandemic, with 64.1 percent staying consistent, 34.5 percent indicating that their sales teams have diminished, while 1.3 percent actually increased the size of their sales team. I found it interesting that only 21.1 percent of respondents utilize part-time sellers. This is an area that should have some consideration. The younger generation are often holding multiple positions and in addition, many working parents prefer a part-time or flexible opportunity. By opening that ability, newspapers should be able to attract a much higher quality of candidates.

Happily, 94.2 percent claim that they have one sales team to sell all products, while now only 5.8 percent have separate digital teams. This is a good area to promote when looking to attract new sellers, especially younger generations, as there is a high amount of interest to sell digital.

Speaking of younger generations, that is where work needs to be done. The average age of sellers in the industry is aging and without attracting and retaining from the younger generations, this will create a crisis in a few years. We found 74.4 percent of newspaper sellers are over 40, while only 31.8 percent are between thirty and forty.

Let us take that a step further and share why new hires are not staying. The number one response, at 35 percent, was that employees could make more money elsewhere. The next two highest response are ones that are easily corrected: 24.2 percent did not understand what they were getting into when they accepted the job. This is why it is so important to have job profiles that include all expectations, responsibilities and duties—there should be no surprises upon hiring. The next reason was due to a poor culture fit (20.6 percent). Again, by doing some feedback surveys, this can easily be turned around for a minor cash investment.

In reviewing actual compensation questions, we found out that only 31.7 percent of the respondents offer a different compensation plan for new hires and 46.6 percent offer only a 90-day guarantee to get a new seller ramped up. This can hurt in recruiting as most people are unable to build a list that bills enough to live on within that short of a time. To demonstrate a comparison on offering a year security period, 32 percent of television and 26 percent of radio respondents are now offering a full year guarantee versus only 4 percent in newspapers To gain the quality of seller that is needed to increase and build revenue, this is area that needs improvement.

Many in the industry appear to be reviewing best practices when building compensation plans for new hires as 38.6 percent are including non-revenue activity or accomplishments when paying a new hire. However, only 28.7 percent consider them for experienced sellers.

Good news is that many publications are offering a base plus salary, which is an attractive plan when hiring: 74 percent of respondents offer that, while 20.2 percent pay 100 percent commission. Since COVID-19, compensation has changed only for 13.5 percent, so hopefully income will remain steady for the rest of the year, and 70.4 percent state that they pay on billings with 29.6 percent paying on collections.

Now let’s compare earnings.

For the entry level rep, the majority earn between $20,000 to $39,000. The average income of all reps tops out at $40,000 to $59,000 at 74 percent with 18.8 percent earning $60,000 to $79,000, only 4.5 percent earning between $80,000 and $110,000 with no one showing an average rep earning above that figure. In comparing this against other media, it is definitely lagging.

The survey includes some additional figures and statistics. Here is one last one that is important in knowing why people join newspaper ad sales for their career. Tied for first place are the earning potential and helping clients succeed with the company reputation coming in at a close second and then finally for the love of the industry. These are important facts to share when you are crafting marketing campaigns, job profiles and of course, your career page.

For a complete copy of the survey, visit

Laurie Kahn is president and CEO of Media Staffing Network.


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