Selling new and non-traditional advertisers

July 3, 2013

By Peter Wagner

N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sheldon, IA

Stan Schwartz, Pub Aux’s intrepid editor e-mailed me recently with a question. ”Can you write a piece for July’s edition,” he asked me. “I’d like something on how salespeople can approach and close new and non-traditional prospects.”

“Sure,” I replied, snickering a bit to myself. Schwartz came up through the editorial side. He’s never worked in newspaper sales and apparently doesn’t understand the words “new” and “non-traditional” don’t apply in our business today.

Most community newspapers see few businesses starting up in their own market. Too many of their residents are running off to nearby towns big chain box stores to buy desired fashions, building materials and even food.

And to top that off, most remaining businesses in their community long ago became targets for consistent newspaper advertising sales. To assure the paper’s existence, smart sales professionals have learned there are no “non-traditional” prospects. Every business, from funeral homes to the manufacturer of wiz-whatever clothing resale shops has become important clients.



But in answer to Schwartz’s request, I believe cold calls should be a comfortable experience for all involved. The salesperson should never expect or even attempt to close a sale the first time. Instead, the time should be used to introduce yourself and your publications, to discover common interests and to learn all you can about the potential customer, including his personal background as well as his business plans and needs. Remember, the best relationships begin slowly and grow with time.

Also, in most cases leave your sales portfolio in the car. That big leather-like thing under your arm just signals you are there to sell something. Instead, present yourself as an interested marketing expert ready and willing to help the business grow. Make your approach with the understanding that any growth the client experiences will result in even greater future opportunities for you.

I often tell my clients, “I’m more interested in your bigger dollars next year than what your budget might be this year. My goal is to prove to you that I’m here to work for you!”

One last comment on approaching possible new customers: I sometimes have good luck walking in with our N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sports Leader magazine and OKOBOJI magazine spread out in front of me. Just seeing the magazine covers and newspaper front page creates a curiosity that results in a relaxed reception and the opportunity to begin a relationship.



Because we’ve already established there is no such thing as a non-traditional advertiser, let’s move on to how to sell newspaper advertising, period!

1. Have the courage of your convictions. You have to really believe in the ability of your publications to deliver results. You need to love your job and the opportunity it gives you to help your customers succeed. If you don’t, get a job selling shoes or painting buildings.

Know the important details that can help you succeed. Be able to share without any reference materials concerning your publication’s rates, reach, demographics, circulation breakdown and success stories.

2. Always put your client’s interests first. Any fast talker can sell a business one ad. To sell additional ads requires creating a schedule and copy that produces results. That success will come from asking questions and sharing ideas.

When working with a potential or existing advertiser, try to put yourself in his or her position. What would you want if you were sitting on his or her side of the desk?

God gave us two ears and only one mouth. Perhaps that was because he wanted us to listen more and talk less. Talk only when necessary and ask questions to clarify, not to confront.

Be careful not to interrupt and listen for ideas you can turn into advertising suggestions.

Finally, don’t jump to conclusions. Many individuals think with their mouths and are working out an idea in their head as they try to explain it to you. Instead, take notes and nod a lot. The more you learn the more you will eventually sell.

3. Work hard to develop an ongoing relationship. To that end, be realistic in your expectations, trustworthy in your execution and respectful of the client. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure every time you give the prospect something—a rate card, a promotion idea or a sample ad—you ask for something in return. What, for example, is his or her current budget or what do he or she considers the greatest growth area?
  • Impress the client regarding his or her importance by taking your sales manager or publisher along on one of your early calls.
  • Find ways to make additional contacts with the prospect, outside his or her office, by attending a seminar, open house or community event you think he or she might also attend.
  • Stop by with a surprise sack lunch or box of baked goods and suggest you visit over the meal or coffee and treats.
  • Offer to use your publication’s resources to create a unified advertising program, do special research or produce supportive printed or other promotional material.
  • Ask for meetings with other company decision makers to establish your credibility and commitment to the future of that business.



Nobody ever said selling newspaper advertising is easy. If it were, everybody would do it.

But the future of the hometown newspaper is still bright. No other medium delivers the attentive numbers, consensus building ability, volume and organization information or ease of delivery provided by a community newspaper.

That cannot be done without serious advertising income, however. In a world where there are more competitors than ever, being a committed, producing expert gives caring newspaper salespeople a true advantage. © Peter Wagner 2013


Peter W. Wagner is publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW, Sheldon, IA, and president of Creative House Print Media Consultants. He is a regular presenter at newspaper conferences and conventions as well as a new revenue consultant and trainer for independent newspapers and groups. He can be reached at or on his cell—712-348-3550.

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