The advantage of print classifieds over online

By Richard Clark

As an old advertising person I hate to admit it, but most classified departments could learn a valuable lesson from the newsroom. That lesson is that we ultimately work for the readers. That is to say that satisfying our readers is far more important than satisfying our advertisers, bosses, business offices or production departments. That's a major shift, and if you can't make it, the rest of this advice may not make any sense to you.

The key to newspaper success in classifieds is volume.

You must maintain a critical mass of ads in each major classified vertical. Ads beget ads.

The more ads you have, the more interesting your readers will find your classified columns. Most of your local classified line ad advertisers are also readers. The more readers your classifieds have each week, the more advertisers you will have. A good newsroom staff continually strives to find angles that make any given story more interesting to the readers. This is exactly what we must do in classifieds. For every fair offer that is published in the classifieds, there is a reader out there someplace that is looking for just that offer.

If your Ad-visers can get the advertisers to show what makes the offer a deal, the right readers will respond.

This brings us to the biggest lie that is told in classifieds. Sometimes the advertiser says it.

Worse, sometimes we say it. The biggest lie is any version of, “Oh, if they are interested, they'll call.” My favorite response was from an Ad-viser who said, “Yes they will, but we want to be sure it's you that they call, right?” Think about it; all your life your mother told you not to talk to strangers.

Anyone you don't know is a stranger. Most people are reluctant to go to a stranger's home to examine the article for sale.

The opposite is also true – most of your subscribers are reluctant to invite strangers into their homes to examine items for sale. They certainly are nervous about having strangers drive their vehicles. Garage sales are one answer to this dilemma. The seller simply puts all the stuff they want to get rid of out on the driveway, runs an ad with the address, times and dates, and hopes for the best. These sellers would be far better off to list the primary items that they will be selling, as this will draw in more serious prospects for those items.

Your newspaper has been bringing buyers and sellers together for decades. You know which ads work and which don't work. The ads that show that the offer is a deal always work better than those that leave readers guessing. The advice you can give is one of the primary advantages you have over the many free-ad websites. Don't throw this advantage away by just taking ads.

The vast majority of your print and online readers are from your local area, which means they are a lot like your advertisers, not scary strangers from all over the Internet. Another strong advantage you should point out is that you don't take every ad that is placed.

The newspaper enjoys a trust relationship with its readers. Some of that trust is extended to your advertisers. Readers should know that you have a policy of not accepting ads that you suspect are misleading.

If you can focus on making sure your Ad-visers get the best possible story out of every advertiser, your classified readership and revenues will prosper.

© Richard Clark 2009

Richard Clark is the owner of Classified Development. It is more important than ever to win every battle in classifieds. Clark can teach your team how to make that happen. With more than 200 successful projects during the last 13 years, his nuts-and-bolts recommendations, training programs, and rate-structuring techniques have never failed to pay off. With his help, your classifieds will thrive again.  Find out more at or call (423) 929-2243.

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