DeGeorge: Build classifieds by making them sexy

October 10, 2013

By Stanley Schwartz

Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

PHOENIX, AZ—Most large newspapers took a big hit in their classified sections after Craigslist started offering free online ads. The outlook grew dim for smaller publications as more companies came online, cutting into a once lucrative area of newspaper revenue.

Janet DeGeorge, president of Classified Executive Training & Consulting, specializing in print and online and display classified advertising sales strategies for newspapers and their websites, said newspapers could take back their classified business, using some relatively inexpensive techniques to make their sections sexy.

“Small newspapers have a better chance of making money because they connect with the retailer,” she said during her session at the National Newspaper Association’s 127th Convention and Trade Show, Sept. 13. “You can do a redesign of your classified section using your own artists,” DeGeorge added. She offers webinars to show how to make changes that will modernize print and online classified sections. Newspapers that have utilized her techniques, she said, have doubled their classified ads.

“Photo-less classified ads, especially online classifieds, are not sexy,” DeGeorge said, adding that at least 95 percent of Craigslist ads have photos. But it’s more than just photos. Classified sections need to look modern, cool, clean and sophisticated, she explained.

As an example, she directed those in the audience to visit The site puts each classified category under bright photo buttons. People looking for a particular category could easily find it and then click through to the ads. The site receives 100,000 unique visits each month and “earns a ton of money,” she said.

This modern look, DeGeorge said, is what will bring people back to newspaper classifieds. Even if Craigslist were to close right now, she said, newspapers would not be able to get their market share back unless they update their look.

She also suggested newspapers aggregate classifieds from other sites, such as eBay and Amazon.

So what is sexy? she asked. Gillette shavers have used pretty women in its ad campaigns to help promote its men’s shavers. DeGeorge asked if this is really necessary. “Maybe,” she answered.


Liner ads

There is still room for liner ads, DeGeorge said. But the front of the classified section needs to be compelling. It has to catch the reader’s eye and draw him in. She suggests creating half- and quarter-page display classified ads for customers. If a company is willing to buy a half-page ad, she said, you could run a story about the company on the top half of the page. She showed an example of a car dealer ad, with a story featuring one of the cars above it. Newspapers can get similar stories about cars from Cost for the stories, she said were about $10.

For one newspaper, she had the dealership take photos of new-car buyers with their cars and ran them in its large, display classified ads. It was difficult to get started, she noted, so the publisher and some of the paper’s staff bought cars and ran their own photos first. Once it was rolling, more and more dealerships got involved.

“People like seeing their photos in the paper,” she added.


Color in the classifieds

DeGeorge said the Vail (CO) Daily uses lots of color in its classified section, color-coding the various categories. It runs an average of 21 pages of classified, she added. She suggested running free merchandise, private party ads to keep readers coming back to the newspaper’s pages and website.

Design of classified sections should take top priority, she noted. Graphic artists see things differently and can design new section headers that will draw in readers. These sections should be branded to the newspaper and each section header should contain the newspaper’s contact information. Online sections can be color-coded, too, using the same design as in the printed product.


Real Estate Ads

One newspaper, she said, profiles real estate agents each week. DeGeorge had the newspaper pick the first one, and that agent then picked the next to be profiled.

“Some of the real estate agents were not happy about that,” she said. “They wanted to buy (a profile); it’s not for sale. The rule is: they can’t just (pick brokers) from their own agency.”

The profiles are built on a question and answer format, with questions like: Why did you become a broker? Why did you come to this town? What do you do in your spare time? Photos can run with the profile of the real estate agent engaging in some of his or her favorite activities and with family members. As a bonus, the newspaper, at its own cost, had the article mounted and gave it to the profiled agent. DeGeorge uses a company called for this process. Cost for one mounting she said is about $25—a small price to pay for an advertiser that will remember your paper for years to come.


Garage sales

At one paper, DeGeorge said, the staff created a zoned city map that showed all the garage sales going on each week. There were more than 100 over the summer, she added. The map proved popular and could be used for real estate purposes as well.

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