Production: Newspapers Should Partner with Commercial Customers to Build Revenue


Niche publications are once again in demand. TV booklets, once a thing of the past, are now attractive to readers. Puzzle booklets (tabs) are popular as well as enhanced Sunday comics. When these options are presented to commercial accounts, it can often mean turn into additional print revenue for your site.

As advertising revenues continue to be challenged, newsprint costs steadily rise, the cost of consumables increase, and digital options struggle to replace print revenue declines, we strive to add new revenue streams to remain profitable.

I once worked for a very wise publisher who constantly reminded me that “we can’t cut our way to prosperity.” While we need to be frugal and manage operations aggressively, the path to success ultimately lies in creating new revenue streams and preserving the existing ones we’ve worked so hard to develop.

Several properties have altered their publication cycle from small daily publications to weekly, dropping publication days and trimming staff along the way. Others have stopped printing altogether, going to all digital or shutting down presses and outsourcing printing to larger consolidated sites. It just doesn’t make sense anymore to shoulder the production expense for a small daily and run the press an hour or two a day while paying a full-time staff. It’s not economically sustainable.

Enter commercial printing.

Publishers and owners figured out a long time ago that to be profitable and maintain a print site it takes more than just a small local publication; there is strength in numbers and those numbers come from outside printing revenue to supplement the daily print operation. Yet, I feel many of us have gotten lazy in our efforts.

There are two primary aspects of commercial printing: selling the job and retaining the job. We put a tremendous amount of time and effort into selling the job. Sure, some accounts may actually call you and fall into your lap, but for the most part we put in months of sales efforts to secure each and every account. It’s not an easy business. The phone calls, emails, quoting and re-quoting, visiting the account, trial runs, and so on—it’s not an easy road.

Then comes the challenge of keeping the account. There is always another printer out there that can do as good a job and possibly at a better price. That’s why it’s important to build relationships with your commercial customers. Something I call “partnering.”

If you’re not experienced in sales, I’d recommend sitting down with your ad director or spending a little time with one of your paper’s top ad sales folks and watching how they interact with customers. You’ll observe the most successful salesperson pushing upsells on every call; marketing upcoming special sections, print and delivers, sticky note applications, full color printing, digital add-ons, pick-up ads, spadias, cross publication advertising, and of course ad packages.  Everything is about selling value to their accounts.

Years ago ad sales often consisted of walking into the advertiser, picking up copy and running the ad. How well do you think that would work out for us today? Not very much, yet this is exactly how many of us continue to handle commercial printing.

Our commercial customers often trudge along doing the same thing week after week—12 pages, color on the front and back, etc.—for a lot of us this is enough. The customer uploads their completed files, has a standard print order, a standard price, and the printer delivers a standard product; job after job. Sure this means revenue and can produce consistent dollars, which contributes to the bottom line. If you’re good with this, that’s fine, but if you look a little harder there is a better way—upsells.

When is the last time you sat down with a commercial customer and tried to help them with their business? If you believe in your product (the services you provide), then upsell it.

Don’t look at it as dragging more money out of the customer. Look at it as helping customers build their business and becoming a “partner” in their success. If you don’t see things this way, you’re looking at the whole thing wrong and probably shouldn’t plan on being successful in commercial printing long-term.

Help your commercial accounts to stay ahead of the pack. They have many of the same challenges we do. Offer them options to outpace their competitors by providing products and services their competitors can’t offer to advertisers.

I dare say that some of our commercial accounts aren’t as fortunate as we are in the newspaper industry. Many operate on shoestring budgets, survive week to week using family members for free labor, and squeak by earning just enough to pay their printing bill. Many of our commercial customers print as a labor of love for their communities and are proud to be the voice of their community. Every penny you can help them with keeps them that much longer as a customer and keeps the revenue stream open for your business. Their success means your success and everyone in your operation needs to look at it this way.

I previously wrote for E&P an article about new revenue streams for our core publications and working with advertising departments to grow these revenues , yet I neglected to focus on the opportunities that commercial accounts can find through these same approaches.

Some of the non-revenue benefits that develop through partnering with commercial accounts are customer loyalty and sustainability. Customers can find a printer just about anywhere, but getting a printer who they regard as a partner is something quite different and a step above.

Print and Delivers

Many of our commercial accounts are in small to midsize communities. The advertisers in these communities don’t always have the resources that many of the big box stores we’re used to have. As a result, they may welcome their local newspaper offering one-stop print, insert and deliver options.

As a customer service, you can help your commercial account gain this advertising revenue by brokering the printing of their 8.5x11 work and inserting it for them. Both you and your customer will realize a revenue gain and it’s just another service that you can provide to retain existing commercial account loyalty.

In the smaller markets, print and delivers don’t often come to mind for many of our commercial accounts.

Offer Variable Pricing

It comes as no surprise that we’ve had several customers whose circulation has declined over the years. Many of these customers would love to print 2,500 papers one week and 1,800 the next, then jump up to 3,000 for a special event. While most of us can provide quotes upon request, it’s more convenient to the customer to provide an upfront sliding scale for printing that allows customers to plan accordingly without making constant requests for pricing. It’s a little extra work on the front-end but makes it easier on the customer in the long run.

Providing this pricing scheme may seem like common sense to some, but how many of us actually do it?

Quarter-Fold stitched booklets with enamel covers can be a great marketing tool to commercial accounts. Printing the “guts” inside and sending covers out to be printed then combining the two in your shop can contribute to your bottom line in commercial printing.

Promoting Special Sections

Many commercial customers don’t even consider special sections. Often customers have signature pages or full-page events in their paper, but don’t really know how to go about putting together a true special section. You can help them by making the suggestion in the first place and then offering up various options of paper stock, color, distribution avenues, etc. When commercial accounts see how reasonable it can be to produce a special section and you can guide them on the marketing and sales of that section, this becomes a real option for them.

Much of the marketing and sales aspect comes from your experience on the newspaper side of things. How many special sections have you been a part of? Planning, putting things together with advertising, providing guidance to advertising as far as recommended page configurations, color positions, etc. Provide the same advice to your commercial accounts and you might be surprised how eager they are to launch a special section.

I’ve successfully sold several customers on special holiday sections when they’ve never done one before. Again the benefits are many: I feel good about partnering with them, providing a service and helping them to grow their business (which grows our business). This also promotes loyalty from customers so they’re less likely to wander.

Unique Products

Lately enhanced comic sections, puzzle booklets and TV tabs (yes, they’re back) have made a resurgence in many markets. Speak with your larger commercial clients to make sure they are aware and taking advantage of these revenue opportunities, help them to put together products that can grow their advertising and increase your print revenue.

Sticky Notes: I’ll wager that 99 percent of commercial customers don’t have the slightest idea how to go about getting a sticky note printed and applied to their paper; additionally, it’s likely most of them don’t even give it a second thought.

Would they consider it “partnering” and caring for their business if you showed them how to navigate those waters? You bet.

Meet with your customers and let them know the benefits of applying sticky notes to their paper. You can use your existing contacts to have the printing done for them and apply notes in your shop, gaining additional revenue for both you and your customer. Another win-win.

Spadias: As far as providing this to their customers, probably another thing that simply isn’t on your commercial account’s radar. Perhaps they don’t know how to market and sell a spadia, perhaps they don’t realize the value in it, or perhaps they just didn’t know it was an option for them with their printer. Throw it on the table for them; remember that as their business grows so does yours.

The more options the better: half spadias, three-quarter spadias, gate-folds, whatever your facility can offer. Offer various paper grades, sizes and colors. Give your customer the full tool-belt to market to their clients so that everyone benefits in the end.

Stitch and Trim Booklets: If you can provide any flexie products to your customer make sure to let them know what and actively help them, sell it to their customer. Provide the various sizes, glue and trim, stitch and trim options, paper stocks, mixing of cover stock and text stock, applying outside slick covers, etc. Whatever options you can offer to benefit your client and continue to build that relationship, take advantage of it now.

Outside Printing/Glossy Stock, etc.: All of our operations have one or more physical limitations. Most of us can’t provide it all: heat-set, UV, variable web sizes, stitching, post-it note applications, etc. I have had several existing customers who can benefit from these services and we have the connections and experience necessary to assist our commercial customers with this part of the business. Regardless of if you broker this printing or at the very least help your customers make the right connections, it’s another way to build the loyalty of your customer and build solid long-term relationships.

If you have an off-line stitcher-trimmer operation, you can assist your customer with one-stop shopping; sending their glossy printing to an outside printer of your choice and marrying that with your in-house text printing on your equipment, much the same as you would for your advertising department if they needed a booklet.

The Bottom Line

Most of what we’ve learned in the publishing business and that we do on a daily basis is easily transferable to our commercial accounts. Don’t wait for the customer to call you, call the customer. Offer options that separate you from your competition and will help their business grow and chances are you’ll benefit from it as well.

If you take away anything from this article, it’s don’t consider the customer just a customer, consider them a partner. Become a partner in their business not just someone who churns out their printing. If they fail, you fail; if they succeed, you succeed. Offer options that help them to grow and you will grow, accept the status quo and you’ll get just what you put out.

Perhaps I need to apologize for my overuse of the word “partnering.” When I truly believe in something, I tend to push it to others. I’ve made it clear to anyone who has ever worked with me that just being a commercial printer and going through the motions doesn’t cut it. There are several commercial printers that can print as well as the shops I’ve ran, several printers who can match my pricing and all printers would welcome the revenue as much as I do. The easiest way to separate yourself from the competition is to provide superior customer service and build solid relationships with your clients.

Practice what you preach, and treat customers as you’d expect to be treated and your client base will grow right along with your revenue.

Jerry Simpkins is vice president of the West Texas Printing Center, LLC in Lubbock, Texas. Contact him on or at



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