Great ideas that can help you build revenue, part one

By Stanley Schwartz

Omaha, Neb. – Newspapers must have enough revenue in order to do what they do, said Robert Williams Jr., co-publisher and co-owner of SouthFire Newspaper Group in Blackshear, Ga.

In order to get that revenue, newspapers must be thriving in their markets. And sometimes, that revenue can come from a great idea.

Williams moderated this year's Great Idea Exchange during the 2010 National Newspaper Association Convention and Trade Show at the Qwest Center.

He pointed out a group of young women sitting together in the audience, who he said were excited about what they were doing for their newspaper group – New Century Press. The company owns five newspapers in three states.

For the past two years, said Sarah Ebeling, editor for The News Era in Parker, S.D., the company has been creating school activities calendars.

"They are full of all the football games and all of the band concerts," she said. The front and back are glossy covers and the newspaper sells the inside covers and banner ads for each calendar month. The newspaper gives copies of the activities calendars to the schools, which then sell them as fundraisers.

"They have gone over amazingly well," Ebeling said. In fact, she has already sold the ad spots for next year.

At one school with 250 students, Ebeling said the newspaper provided 500 copies of the calendars and within two weeks they were all gone. She added that grandparents like them, too.

Williams noted that numerous newspapers are producing local magazines about their towns and sometimes their adjacent communities. He and his wife, Cheryl, operate five newspapers in Georgia.

Working in conjunction with his local chamber of commerce, Williams said, his staff put together a magazine for the community. Two years earlier, an outside company had produced the magazine. Seeing the ad revenue potential, Williams approached the chamber and offered to do the magazine locally.

"If you're going to go in behind another company," Williams said, you have to sell the ads for less but not too much cheaper. He suggested calling to find out what the other company's ad rates were first before setting your own rates.

The outside company produced a 36-page magazine.

Willliams' first run at producing the magazine, garnered 96 pages of local content and ads. It brought in an additional $35,000 for his company.

Kurt Johnson, the publisher of the Aurora (NE) NewsRegister, produced a magazine for his community by tapping into the money made available by his state's transiency occupancy tax. When people stay in local hotels, they pay an occupancy tax, he explained. And that money is available for marketing. He applied for and received $5,000 to help produce a magazine promoting his community.

The grant covered his printing costs, and that in turn, allowed him to lower his advertising rates for the publication.

The first year, the magazine was 80 pages. He said he believes next time the magazine will be even larger.

Another community event to benefit everyone, he said, was starting a health challenge. It was a three-month campaign where four-person teams made resolutions to lose weight. It was loosely based on the TV show "The Biggest Loser."

"It is extremely popular," he said. The paper put up $1,000 in prize money. Each participant paid $10 to enter. The results were tracked by percentage of weight loss.

Johnson said his staff sought sponsorships from the local hospital and fitness-oriented businesses.

"(The hospital) handled all the weigh-ins," he said, and it had the device that measures a person's percentage of body fat. About 320 people participated in the challenge. With the sponsorship from the hospital, a local health club and a grocery store, Johnson said he was able raise about $12,000 in revenue.

The challenge also gathered a lot of attention from the community while it was under way.

"It was not only a revenue maker, but a real community event and service," he said.

Jim Headley, publisher of the Gering (Neb.) Citizen, said his paper revamped its sports page. He believes all sports pages need lots of photos. Along the side of each sports page is a filmstrip with five additional photos. It is sponsored by the local steel company. Across the bottom of the page is another ad featuring local athletes.

"This is how we sell our sports page on an annual contract," he said. "And people are clamoring for these spots."

When he travels to the schools, Headley said, he usually sees the full page of his newspaper hanging up in the hall.

© Stanley Schwartz 2010

Stanley Schwartz is the managing editor of Publisher’s Auxiliary NNA. You can contact him at

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