New revenue from pea soup

July 8, 2014

By Peter W. Wagner
Publisher | The N’West Iowa REVIEW

Am I the only one in America who believes their community newspaper’s greatest profit center is still their printed paper?

Newspapers remain the only media capable of reaching a unified, well-educated and motivated local audience.

Local broadcasters have split their audience with three or more local and regional stations. Advertisers have to purchase time on every station if they hope to reach a majority of prospective buyers.

The Internet, once considered the wave of the future, demands extensive search time to learn the true, unfiltered story.

Local shopper publications, once strongly positioned by their free circulation, have been duplicated by dozens of other free local publications. Readers, without time to read them all, often choose not to read any.

Only community newspapers, with professional reporting and editing, paid circulation and guaranteed readership stand unique in their communities. More importantly, only newspapers have the reach and loyal readership to create consensus and the sense of community needed to unite and grow a town.

So why are many publishers committing their greatest assets to building an electronic presence; something any local computer nerd can do? Maybe it’s because they don’t understand the importance of the four “P”s of community publishing: Presentation, Persuasion, Publications and Promotions.



Just like a retailer can’t sell from an empty store, a newspaper can’t sell advertising into a lifeless publication. A recent study by the Reynolds Journalism Institute stated that a 1 percent cut in newsroom expense reduced costs by $10,000 but led to $23,000 in lost revenue.

Readers want their papers to be professional. They can get all the rumors and negative commentary they want on the Internet. Readers expect their newspaper to cover all the traditional local beats, to report both sides of every issue, to provide analysis and well thought-out editorials and most important of all, to be the recorders of local history.

Community publishers must learn to be bold in their design. Consistent studies show that as many as 90 percent of their readers enter a page through a great photo, an impressive quote box, a stylized headline or some type of expansive graphic.



Persuasion is just another word for effective sales. The earlier quoted RJI study reported that a 1 percent cut in sales expenses saved the paper $8,000 but cut overall revenue by $12,500.

Most radio stations train their sales staff two or more times a week. Much of that training is repetitive. But, when working with my team I often have an experienced salesperson slap his or her forehead and say, “I’d forgotten that.”

Sales teams need to hear their sales managers vocalize the proper sales pitch before they start out to sell a new project. That presentation should include the purpose of the promotion, the expected audience that will be reached, the value to the community as well as the specific business and suggest copy for the ad.

Remember, businesses want to advertise. They just need help deciding when, where and what to advertise.

Sales teams don’t usually like role-playing and many sales managers find it time consuming and difficult to manage. But role-playing can be one of the most effective training methods for both the newest hire and the most experienced sales representative.

Publishers need to remember the ABC’s of selling begin with the letter “E.” It is important to teach the salesperson to approach every client with enthusiasm. Many successful sales are the result of the representative being positive about the community, the publication, the future of the client and what the newspaper can do for the customer.

It is also important salespeople have a good product and market education. They need to understand the strengths of different printed products, the local market opportunities and problems and the claims of all the competition. More than a college education, a salesperson must simply be “street smart” regarding all that might either empower or challenge his or her efforts.

Finally, a salesperson needs to understand the importance of execution. A marriage never happens until someone attempts the first kiss. Every no is just one step closer to a yes. No’s are not personal. They’re just requests for more information and more individual attention.

Newspaper sales professionals have to remember that their product is credible. It is the combination of words and images that can be referred to when a person wants confirmation or reassurance.

Newspapers are beautiful. The combination of words and images present the positive image business owners need and buyers want.

Newspapers are portable. They can be carried anywhere and never need a battery or an electrical plug.



During the ’60s McDonald’s successfully sold only five products: Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, french fries, shakes and Coke products. Today the menu changes so often it would be impossible to create a complete list. Many newspapers have ignored that trend to diversify and continue to depend on only their newspaper for sales success.

At Iowa Information Inc., working from one office, we currently publish more than 13 papers and magazines, including a local and regional newspaper, a five-county shopper, a weekly travel tabloid, an upscale slick stock magazine, a sports magazine and a bridal publication. We also publish a monthly farm paper, a start-up weekly newspaper, dozens of community guides and a twice-year regional Things to Do directory.

Having all those products makes it possible to hire good salespeople and easier to sell advertising to our clients. Like independent insurance agents our salespeople are capable of connecting the client with the exact publication and audience desired. That ability provides the salesperson with the inventory needed to close more sales and produce bigger personal monthly commission dollars.



At Iowa Information Inc. we regularly preplan from three to 10 promotions for every edition of our N’West Iowa REVIEW and Sheldon Mail-Sun. Those promotions create exceptional dollars that, added with our run-of-press advertising, guarantees improved weekly revenue.

These efforts include small one-time ad packages, special page and double-truck packages that repeat up to 39 times, special sections, long-term give-away packages including a new pickup truck, trips overseas and bundles of cash.

With today’s limited retail market, many of our sections are designed for the smaller home owned business or local professionals committed to supporting the community, local school or sports team.

Believe it. There is a profitable future for the hometown newspaper. But it requires a look back at what got us to the top in the first place. It also requires a commitment to claim back that position as community leader. That doesn’t happen by believing the propaganda of our electronic competitors. © Peter Wagner 2014


This column shares only a small part of a new sales training program, “Growing New Revenue,” introduced by Peter W. Wagner this summer at Arkansas Press Association and Illinois Press Association meetings. Wagner is available for individual newspaper sales training and is a regular speaker at newspaper conferences and conventions. He can be reached at or his cell 712-348-3550.

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