Building Revenue & Saving Money: Great Ideas

November 2, 2015


ome of the best ideas are ones that have been used time and time again. During the Great Ideas Exchange at the National Newspaper Association’s 129th Annual Convention and Trade Show, a group of publishers, editors and owners shared some of their best ideas on how to increase revenue or how to save costs.

Robert M. Williams Jr., publisher of the Blackshear (GA) Times, moderated the session. Convention attendees look forward to this session because they often come away with ideas they can implement at their newspapers that will earn enough to cover what they spent on their convention registration.

Mark Stone, publisher of the Central City (KY) Times Argus, said a business card section he’s been running for 20 years has always been a moneymaker for him.

“I started out selling the (business card-sized spaces) in 1996 for $25 each, and 20 years later it’s still $25 each,” Stone said. He admitted that he got the idea from another newspaper and ran with it. He started out with only 28 ads on the page, but has been able to sell more each year. “This past January I sold 246 of them.”

Stone sold the ads to businesses and to churches. The first year he tried it, sales were slow. Once everyone got the idea, sales picked up. He was able to make $6,000 during a traditionally slow ad revenue time for his publication.

Stone also showed his National Farm Safety Section that he started four years ago. He sold quarter-page, half-page and full-page ads in the 10-page special section the first year. The second year, it went to 12 pages, then 14 pages in the third year and 16 pages in the fourth year.

Former NNA President Bob Sweeney, publisher of the Villager Newspapers in Greenwood Village, CO, reminded the audience of a good way to build car dealership ads—use a photo of the dealership owner in the ad.

Sweeney noted that when he did this, the owner told him the next week that everyone recognized him from his photo in the ad.

“I’ve been doing this for years, and it works,” he said.

Williams agreed with Sweeney.

“It shows the impact of a newspaper ad,” he added.

Terry Carlisle, general manager for the Ellsworth (ME) American, said her company put together puzzle books as separate sections in the company’s two newspapers—the American and the Mount Desert Islander.

“We sold $4,000 in advertising,” she said about the section. “We made more revenue this year than we did last year.”

Diane Everson, owner and publisher of the Edgerton (WI) Reporter, returned this year to share her Lakes special section. A big part of her revenue is generated from the ad sales for this tourist publication. Each year, she said, it grows a bit more.

“And it’s so easy to do,” she said. “In our area of the state, we have a river and a large lake” (that attracts tourists). She has expanded the publication to cover other nearby lakes, as well. A lot of the material is generated by the Department of Tourism, she added. The latest edition had 120 pages.

Buddy Sellers, owner of the George County Times in Lucedale, MS, said a popular feature at his publication was going into the paper’s archives and finding and rerunning all the photos and stories that featured local soldiers in the paper during World War II.

“For 16 weeks, we ran a half-page feature,” he said. “We got so many comments from people thanking us for running a story on their father or their parent’s father.”

Williams highlighted an idea from his newspaper—ads featuring testimonials on colorectal cancer, which he’s been doing for about 10 years.

“March is colorectal cancer awareness month,” he said, and for the four weeks, a few doctors sponsor a half-page ad that features testimonials from some of their patients who said their lives were saved because they went and got screened. The screening helped uncover the cancer early enough that they could get treatment.

“The testimonials are incredible and very touching,” Williams added. “You’ll never know how many lives you may save by your testimony.”

He also showed a publication his staff created for a local sheriff, who was elected a few years ago. Before getting into office, the incoming sheriff wanted Williams’ people to produce an annual report for him. He compiles all the crime stats for the area and has it represented graphically in the annual report.

“People are amazed at how many people are arrested each year,” Williams said. “They don’t know anything about the whole scope of the work the sheriff’s department does.”

Williams said he distributes the report in his paper and does an overrun so the sheriff can hand them out. Money for the report comes out of the sheriff’s own pocket because “he doesn’t want to take the chance on anyone saying he misused public money.”

Bobby Mayberry, with the Cairo (IL) Citizen, showed an eight-page section he and his people created for their local championship basketball team. The special section featured the players, game stats and contained sponsored ads.

Mayberry also mentioned that he does a best-of section for his community. Williams asked the audience who else does either a reader’s-choice section or a best-of section in their publications.

“If you’re not doing this,” Williams said, “you’re leaving money on the table. The first year we did this, we had a 40-page section.” You could ride through the middle of town and see copies of the results up in the windows of the selected businesses.

The only drawback now is finding ways to prevent businesses from stuffing the ballot box, Williams added.

In order to have less waste and more quality color in his newspaper, John Galer, publisher of the Journal-News in Hillsboro, IL, added a 4-Hi press tower in his printing plant. The savings will be significant, he added.

Jody Hanson, publisher of the Echo Press & Osakis Review in Alexandria, MN, presented a promotion from her newspaper that lasted 10 weeks. It utilized bumper stickers, and readers could to win up to $500 a week. The bumper stickers had to be placed on the back of the vehicle near the license plate.

“Our goal was to have 25 advertisers involved. We actually had 26, and we billed $21,000,” she said. The poster that showed all the participating retailers and the bumper stickers were inserted into the newspaper. The newspaper staff was tasked with spotting the bumper stickers on their daily routines around town. They would take a photo of it and the license plate. The photos were given to one of the sales reps, and a drawing was held to select that week’s winner. She ran the photo of the winning license plate in the paper, and the winner would have to come in to claim the prize that week.

The prizes were certificates from the participating merchants. The winning merchants, in turn, receive ad credit in the paper and can apply the credit to a future ad or receive cash back on an ad that has already run.

Hanson also talked about another incentive for advertisers called “A Deal and a Half.” Merchants agree to run a 2 x 5 ad for $100 a week over the course of the promotion, and at the end of the run, they get a half-page ad.

Williams reminded attendees that they should occasionally take a ride around their town and stop in at every convenience store to see what someone else has sold in their territory. It was while doing this, he noted, that he found out an outside company had sold football posters for his local school teams. The next season, Williams was able to get that business for his company.

Alan Cruikshank, publisher of the Fountain Hills (AZ) Times, presented his idea on a home improvement edition. He decided to do it as a slick magazine. He also produced a local dining guide and the town’s phone book.

Merle Baranczyk, publisher of the Mountain Mail in Salida, CO, said a local music festival prompted him to create a special edition as a slick magazine that highlighted everything about the festival.

“We thought that by putting it on slick paper it would give the festival promoters and attendees a better impression of our town.” He also was able to charge a premium price for ad space in the higher quality publication.

He received a lot of information about the bands that were going to play, and the rest of the section featured information on the town for the expected 15,000 visitors.

“It’s important to take advantage of something that will make a good first impression for your community,” he said.

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