Classified pages don’t have to be drab or boring

January 14, 2015

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary

Sometimes, in order to get better at what you’re doing you have to emulate those that are doing it well. The winners of the National Newspaper Association’s Better Newspaper Advertising Contest for classified pages didn’t earn those honors as a fluke.

One look at their classified sections and you know there’s something special going on here. They work hard to make their classified pages stand out from the crowd. They’re vibrant, informative and easy to navigate.

At the N’West Iowa REVIEW, a regional weekly that is no stranger to winning top honors for its page designs, the classified pages are treated as any other page with ads, said Myrna Wager, vice president of operations. The REVIEW won first place for its classified pages in NNA’s 2014 contest.

The newspaper has a team who oversees the classified pages, but when it comes time to put them together, only one graphic artist lays out the pages.

“There has to be good flow to the pages,” she said. “We group similar types of services together: we keep medical together.” The paper offers color and shading to ads, but it doesn’t do reverses.

“We talk them out of that,” Wagner said. “They’re just not readable, and most look like a blob.”

For an ad to stand out, she noted, they will upsell customers on ad size.

During the last few years, she said, classifieds have been fairly steady. The paper prints seven to eight pages per issue. However, she has seen an increase in help wanted advertising, especially from local companies’ human relations departments. The REVIEW has a person in the classified department who calls these HR departments each week to see if the positions have been filled.

She also encourages companies to advertise by type of job.

“Sometimes people won’t read all the way through a classified display ad for all the different job offerings,” she said.

Even though the company puts most of its efforts into print advertising, Wagner said, about six weeks ago, it started offering online ads, as well.

“People jumped on board,” she said. “They said, ‘Let’s try that.’”

One way the award-winning Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, CA, brings in readers to its classified pages is through its Hot Deals, said Mike McMullin, classified ad director.

On the front page of the classified section, they place ads from inside the section that will draw readers farther into the section.

“It brings readers in because they can see what there is at a glance,” he said. And the advertiser gets a bonus because his or her ad appears on the classified front and inside the section.

McMullin said it’s important to set up classifieds so that people can easily find what they’re looking for.

To help ads stand out, the paper offers bold text in liner ads and color for display classifieds. It also offers a photo option, especially for auto and real estate ads. Auto dealers get their logos in their ads so readers can see at a glance who is selling what.

The paper runs between eight and 10 classified pages each issue during the week and double that on the weekends, McMullin said, but that includes the auto display ads.

He’s been with the paper since 2012 and has seen recruitment advertising increase during that time.

“Which means our customers are hiring again,” he added. And auto ads are increasing, as well. “We have more now than just a year ago.” He believes that after trying a variety of other avenues, the auto dealers are returning to print advertising, especially newspapers.

Even though the Sierra Vista (CA) Herald won a third place in NNA’s BNAC, Classified Manager Nancy Bernard said the classified pages were currently going through a redesign. The classified masthead was redesigned about two years ago, she added. The legal notice section was also redone about a year ago.

“We did that to improve the section and make it easy to read,” she said.

During the last redesign, the classifieds went from six columns to nine columns. After getting feedback from the paper’s advisory board, which includes subscribers, the staff learned that people prefer the six-column format, said Becky Bjork, the paper’s sales director, and that is what they plan on going back to.

“We’re always looking for ideas,” she added. Using an index and keywords also helps to make navigating the pages easier. “We had to go back to the basics.”

Ad-taking software also helps speed things along. A classified system from NewsCycle was recently installed, and for online ads the staff uses software from its website provider, Townnews.com.

The paper runs between four and six pages of classified ads during the week and six to eight pages on the weekend.

They upcharge for color in display classifieds, and offer shading for liner ads. Each category lists ads in alpha order.

The redesign was done in-house, Bjork said. “We have a graphic designer who does the pagination.”

They noted that they have seen a decline in classified ads in the last few years.

As an added feature, the paper sometimes uses various quotes as fillers, said Bette Mroz, a freelance columnist. She noted that the Herald used this quote on its classified page: “People who read newspapers are better teachers and coaches.”

“I’m sure other newspapers could use quotes and chuckles in their newspapers in the same way,” she said. “They make great fillers.”

The Brentwood (CA) Press uses a seven-column format, said Classified Manager Connie O’Neill.

“We offer color and shading to help ads stand out,” she added, and they place color lines between legal notices.

The weekly’s ad software—by AdWorks—allows readers to place their own ads online.

“But we approve them first,” O’Neill said. For the classified section the paper uses software from Townews.com.

Overall, classifieds have remained steady, she said, but legal notices have dropped, and that’s because the number of foreclosure ads have leveled out.

She said they try to make the classifieds as uncluttered as possible, using just seven major categories, such as Jobs, Real Estate, etc.

And to help battle some online classified sites, the paper offers free classified ads for some items, such as lost and found or for items that are being sold for $25 or less.

The 38,000-circulation, free-distribution paper is delivered by independently contracted carriers.

“It lands in everybody’s driveway,” she said. And that helps.

stan@nna.org

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