Ad Sales Life

The pizza shop lesson. Why news media needs to offer more than ads


In my early days working with newspaper ads, one pizza restaurant taught me invaluable lessons about sales, time management and the true essence of value. This wasn’t a fancy pizzeria; it was a run-of-the-mill establishment with a couple of branches across town. However, my interactions with the owner opened my eyes to a new perspective on advertising, which helped me move beyond simple retail ad sales and forge valuable partnerships with local businesses through a broader range of services.

The owner had a habit of dismissing the effectiveness of newspaper ads outright. No matter how meticulously crafted the ad was or how compelling the offer, he remained adamant that it didn't work. Early on, I absolutely hated when an advertiser would say this. Initially, I took this personally, dwelling on what I could have done differently to make the ad more successful. But over time, I came to realize something profound.

No matter the quality of the ad, the owner’s mindset remained fixed. He wanted to do business with the newspaper and assert his skepticism about its effectiveness. It felt like I was running into a brick wall until, finally, a realization prompted a shift in my approach. Instead of solely focusing on creating better ads, I began to realize two things. No matter what, a simple ad in the newspaper can't save some businesses; and two, I began to understand better what truly mattered and was invaluable to the businesses we served.

The pizza shop owner’s stubbornness taught me the importance of assessing the real value we offer advertisers. I observed how his ads, though technically present, needed more practical elements to make them effective. He was too rigid with his offerings, restrictive with his deals and antiquated in his communication style. Yet, underneath his skepticism, there was a desire for guidance and support in growing his business. The value he sought was my insight and ability to help in additional aspects of his pizza shop. He would ask me what other pizzerias offered or my thoughts on turning one of his shops into a sports bar during the evening. On rare occasions, he’d even ask if I could review resumes for his staff.

Reflecting on this experience, I recognize the missed opportunities to provide more comprehensive solutions and how our role as news media revenue leaders has inevitably extended beyond selling conventional ad space. We have entered the realm of exploring expanded offerings and services that benefit all aspects of businesses and our audiences. That’s the beauty of being able to sell for the news industry. We can represent a multidimensional Rubix cube of services that help businesses succeed instead of only being two-dimensional. And even more importantly, some familiar opportunities are gaining traction that we're already readily equipped to employ in our services.

Leveraging job boards to connect communities and businesses

One of the most perplexing phenomena I’ve encountered is the notion that there’s a lack of individuals eager to work and earn a living. I firmly believe that newspapers and local news sites are invaluable platforms for featuring local job opportunities. They serve not just as a convenience for local businesses but also as lucrative avenues for news organizations. Unlike individual business websites or even pure play job sites, newspapers' captive audience across cities translates to higher job board visibility and engagement for businesses and validated candidates. With the multitude of job platforms available today, navigating the process of job hunting and hiring can be overwhelming for both parties. Newspapers and news sites offer a unique solution to bridge this gap, providing ease and convenience in connecting job seekers with employers. Whether revitalizing an existing job board or enhancing classifieds, investing more in the job section is a strategic move that can benefit both the community and businesses needing skilled workers.

Job boards offer more than just connecting employers and employees; they’re a powerful monetization tool achieved through various pricing models. Businesses can pay for different ad placements based on duration and visibility. Basic listings are low-cost, while premium options include highlighted listings, social media promotion or additional integrations. For high-volume employers in industries like call centers and warehouses, you can offer a subscription model allowing them to post a set number of jobs per month or year for a flat fee. Lastly, recruitment agencies can capitalize on maximum exposure by sponsoring the job board.

Networking events and fostering local business connectivity

Events have long been a staple for revenue development in news organizations, often categorized under marketing. However, they are experiencing a resurgence in popularity, and networking events, in particular, caught my attention. I couldn’t help but consider how such events could have benefited the pizza shop owner, providing him with continuity and peer perspectives on revenue streams and strategies.

News organizations uniquely bring communities together through events, fostering connections among like-minded individuals with various causes and interests. When executed effectively, networking events can be highly impactful, bridging gaps and bringing important topics to the forefront for local businesses. Additionally, these events offer valuable exposure opportunities for local sponsors, allowing them to showcase products or services to a captive audience.

Try different event themes, such as local issue discussions, brand building or networking sessions. Customize events for marketing and advertising pros or community leaders. Offer various package options, including premium choices with extra branding perks. Partner with local chambers to use their resources. Focus on making events financially sustainable and mutually beneficial to maximize your returns.

Unlocking local market insights with surveys and research

I realized that the pizza shop owner sought local market data, particularly on pricing and consumer preferences. Conducting targeted surveys with interested subscribers could have provided him invaluable information to refine his brand positioning. These surveys can garner mass attention and initiate compelling advertising campaigns. It’s crucial to offer actionable insights demonstrating the value proposition to potential advertisers.

As a news organization, consider partnering with research firms to gain insights into local businesses and organizations. By gathering intelligence on their needs and preferences, you can tailor advertising campaigns to effectively engage and attract revenue.

The pizza shop owner’s story underscores a key principle: news media revenue development goes beyond selling ads. It’s about building partnerships and offering extended valuable services like job boards, networking events and market research to address the deeper needs of businesses in the community, such as broader recruitment reach, brand refinement and customer acquisition. In hindsight, this comprehensive approach could have helped address the pizza shop's core needs by attracting top talent through targeted job boards, fostering connections and perspective via specialized networking events, and providing actionable market research on customer preferences.

Richard E. Brown is a News Media Alliance Rising Star recipient, the former director of renewals and digital sales strategy at LPi, and the former director of digital operations and sales of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He recently served as the head of digital subscriber churn for Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK and is the former senior director of retention for The Daily Beast. He is a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation and is the owner of RE Media Holdings, LLC. Richard is available for consulting and can be reached at


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