A concept for a public notices page

July 6, 2015

By Ed Henninger
Design Elements 

To say that legal notices are a major part of our revenue would be an understatement.

Legal notices bring in thousands—often hundreds of thousands—of dollars annually.

Until recently, when some states attempted to pull them out of newspapers (in some cases, successfully), we rarely gave legals a second thought. We just ran them and took the money.

Now that we’re threatened with the loss of legal notices, we need to change our thinking.

One of my suggestions (surprise!) is that we pay greater attention to the design of legals.

For starters, let’s stop labeling them “legal advertising” and call them what they really are: Public Notices.

Here are some suggestions:

1. GIVE THEM a special header. I like the idea of running a shallow photo of an architectural detail, perhaps, from your county court building. Or, you could run a representative photo like a gavel or a courtroom.

2. INCREASE the type size. That’s right: If you want people to take notice and read your notices, run the type larger. You might be being paid only to run legals at 7 point or so, but I suggest you run them the same size you run your text. Does that make them take up more space? Yes. Do you want to keep the public notices in your paper? Yes!

3. RUN HEADLINES. Just like other news in your paper, give each notice a headline to help attract readers in the package.

4. RUN PHOTOS and maps with the notices. If your county sheriff is planning to auction off some time-worn cruisers, for example, run a photo of one of the cruisers. If a local church has applied for a permit to construct a new building, run a photo of the church.

5. RUN MAPS, where applicable. If a golf club is planning to create a nine-hole course for beginners, show readers the layout of the course.

6. RUN A GLOSSARY when you can. We all know that legals are full of lawyerish gobbledygook. Try to run an occasional glossary of terms with your public notices. Readers will thank you for it.

7. DESIGN THE PAGE. That’s not gonna be so easy because you can’t trim the text, as you can with most stories. But if you’re serious about keeping your legal notices, you can find a way to do it. And no one promised that this would be easy.

8. CONSIDER QR CODES. You can place these in the legals to help take readers to websites where they can find more details. Or perhaps a QR code can connect them to a phone number where they can ask for more details—like how to bid on selling the city a new computer system.

9. TEASE TO NOTICES. Often, what’s in the public notices is at least as newsy as some of the stories on your front page. Certainly, a notice requesting building permits for a 12-store mall in your area is news. Don’t hesitate to direct readers to that notice.

10. READ THEM. Often, your news staff will catch wind of a major story just by reading the notices in your own newspaper. Make sure you check the content of legals consistently.

So, do you want to keep your legals? Do you want to get them more readership?

Stop thinking of them as legals and start thinking of them as public notices, an important part of your newspaper for every reader.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact Ed: edh@henningerconsulting.com | 803-327-3322

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With the help of my books, you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at www.henningerconsulting.com. © Ed Henninger 2015


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting. On the Web: henningerconsulting.com. Phone: 803-327-3322.

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