NNA Advertising Survey Great Ad Ideas

September 11, 2012

By Stanley Schwartz  | Publishers’ Auxliary

The difficulty of finding good advertisers for community newspapers is not news to publishers. In an informal survey by the National Newspaper Association of how its member papers feel about advertising at the local level, nearly 70 percent said they thought it was harder today to find good advertisers than it was five years ago.
“Where once we could walk down Main Street and stop at the local businesses to talk to the owners, now we are finding we need to cultivate relationships with those decision makers located at the corporate office,” said Kelli Bultena co-publsiher of the Lennox (SD) Independent.
To go along with the difficulty in finding good advertisers, the respondents also noted how hard it is to find and retain good ad salespeople. At least 40 percent thought it was more difficult to find and keep their salespeople today as compared to five years ago. Thirty-six percent said there has been little change and 9 percent thought it was easier.
One respondent said it’s difficult to find a salesperson who can turn a no into a yes and others said that during the interview process the prospective employees seemed more interested in the job’s benefits than the job itself.
There is a delicate balance in keeping the ad sales job challenging and providing incentives for those on staff to do better.
Compensation is always a interesting topic for publishers looking to improve revenue while retaining strong salespeople.
Of those who answered the survey, the majority, 38.5 percent offer salary and commission, 20.5 percent offer salary and a bonus program when salespeople reach certain goals and 23.1 percent offer only salary.
Karen Ladd, publisher and editor of the Colebrook (NH) News and Sentinel, pays her salespeople straight salary. She said “This is a rural, hardscrabble area—we find our salespeople don’t want the risk of depending on commission. They need the steady paycheck.”
Many smaller publication owners rely on themselves for ad sales. One said, “I am the top person in my advertising department. I’m the editor, publisher and janitor. Once I’m turning a profit, I’ll compensate myself somehow.”
This is why NNA asked how much of the publisher’s time is spent on sales duties during a typical week
• 27.5% spent 5% - 10% of their time marketing the newspaper.
• 35.5% spent about 5% of their time actually closing sales.
• 25% spent 5% - 10% of their time handling management of orders.
• 31.3% spent about 5% helping to design ads.
• 28.4% spent about 5% of their time budgeting and incentivizing sales.
• 37.5% spent up to 5% of their time managing non-compensation aspects of sales staff.
• 47% said they spent about 5% of their time answering complaints and fixing problems.
Most of these small publications do not use ad-tracking software. Of those who answered the survey, 78.5 percent said they do not use a customer relationship management or tracking system.
When asked what they do use instead of software specifically designed for newspapers, 73.8 percent of the respondents said they use their own accounting system. Fifty-six percent use hard copy files and 24.6 percent use software designed by their newspaper.
At least 67.8 percent of the respondents said they use electronic tearsheets.
Great advertising ideas can be found in a variety of places. The majority of those who answered the survey, 60 percent, said they glean ideas from newspaper conventions, such as the NNA’s annual convention and trade show, state press associations and others. In addition to conventions, at least 48 percent said they rely on Pub Aux columnists for ideas.
Because they could choose multiple answers, 49.3 percent said they also get ideas from their sales reps, 42.7 percent said their advertisers provide ideas and 38.7 percent said they get ideas while showering in the morning.
“The best ideas come from the stories we cover, how can we ‘sell’ to an event. What is the current interest in the community and getting the businesses together to promote it, along with themselves,” said Bultena.
To help increase revenue, many publications develop special sections. They range from rodeo sections to state fair sections. Next month’s Pub Aux theme is “Revenue Opportunities in the Community.” It will address the many types of special sections community papers can use to help boost revenue.
With the elections just around the corner, many publications are looking to garner political ads. The survey asked if publishers were doing anything to improve the newspaper’s visibility in the political world.
At least 46 percent of those who answered the survey said they participate in press association and other statewide ad campaigns. Thirty-nine percent said they do mailings to candidates. At least 38 percent do special sections on candidates.
Sometimes a newspaper’s sales team needs fresh ideas or incentives. Some have used consultants or outside sales teams to help.
In the past five years 9.3 percent of the respondents have used outside help for print sales. Eighteen percent have used it for Internet sales. The majority, 26.7 percent, said they do not need the extra help.
Co-op advertising is another good way to help local retailers build sales. But few of the respondents utilize co-op advertising. One paper bills the merchants and lets them put in the claim for reimbursement. Another paper uses AdBuilder, the co-op ad service from MultiAd.
In order to show the importance of advertising in newspapers, many publications use readership surveys.
The majority of those who responded to the survey, 66.7 percent, said they have used NNA’s readership surveys. Asked if they have also used their own survey, 52.8 percent said yes. And 49 percent have used a state press association survey.
To get the word out about what these surveys show, a whopping 94.4 percent use house ads in their publication’s pages. Fifty-five percent use classified house ads. Many of them, 84.8 percent, use the information in one-on-one sales calls. Also:
• 22.8% use direct mail
• 15.2% use radio
• 1.3% use TV
• 8.9% use fliers around town
• 5.1% use posters

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