It's high noon - This town is big enough for great circulation ideas

By Ken Blum

Note: Fer ounce, the spalling errs er’ international.

Shoot out? Of circulation ideas? Aginst a corn country cowpoke who wares a bow tie?


Yup, ol’ Pistol Pete may be fast on the draw but az we all know, even Wild Bill dodn’t won ‘em all.

Shucks! (a word you use to greet an Iowa boy, or ya kin use it to az him a question likes: “Hey Pistol Pete, howz yer shucks growin’ this year?”)

So shucks, Pistol Pete. I know y’all can’t hit a bull’s butt with a banjo. This here Blazin’ Buckeye’s bullets arz gunna have you saddlin’ a cloud an’ ridin’ to the great beyond.


Take this, you lowdown Eyeawan!

The Blazin’ Buckeye sez it’s whole lot easier to build circulation if you first do everything in your power to make sure your current subscribers stay on board.

1. Check the schedule for sending out renewal notices. Send out the first renewal notice four weeks before the subscription expires, and then send another the week before the expiration.

Still no renewal? Don’t give up. Keep sending the paper for another month, and call the subscriber a couple times to get the renewal and payment. If the subscriber still doesn’t renew when you’re talking to him on the phone, make sure to ask him “why?” Then pass that feedback on to the publisher.

But don’t give up. Attach an 8 x 11 inch sheet to the paper notifying the subscriber that this is the Final Issue. Include a phone number to call for payment by credit card.

Ha! Ya missed, Pete—take this here lead and …

2. Still no renewal. Gol’ dang. For weeklies that send subscription bills to more than, say 2,000 subscribers a year, Blazin’ Buckeye recommends including a self-addressed, stamped envelope with every renewal notice, and with every direct mail promotion.

Of course, it’s impractical to attach a stamp to every return envelope sent with the bills.

The alternative is to purchase a Business Reply Mail Permit from the U.S. Postal Service. This way, you only pay postage for envelopes that are returned. The subscriber does not pay the return postage, does not have to supply a postcard or envelope, and does not need to put an address on the mail piece—all which improves the rate of response. There is a $185 permit fee involved and you will also need to establish an Advance Deposit Account that requires an annual accounting fee of $585. But it’s worth the investment as another way to hold on to more of those precious subscribers.

Ow!-Oo!-Ow! - Pistol Pete winged me where the sun don’t shine.

3. Still no renewal? Daw-gone! But keep in mind the list of former subscribers is still the best list you can have for prospects. Call them again with a special “we miss you” offer a few months after the final issue was delivered. Note—you can call these former subscribers under Do-Not-Call-Regulations for up to 18 months after the subscriber’s last purchase or last delivery, or last payment, unless the subscriber asks your newspaper not to call again. In that case, you must honor the request not to call.

Hey Pete! I’ll squirt enough lead at ya to make it a payin’ job to melt ya down!

4. Still no renewal? Dangit. Maybe the subscriber just can’t afford the price tag for a full year’s subscription. For you weekly pardners, plug in renewal rates for three- and six-month subscriptions.

I.E.—Three months: divide the annual subscription rate by four, add 25 percent, and then round off to the next highest dollar.

For example—annual local rate of $30 divided by four equals $7.50 times 125 percent equals $9.37—round off to $10.

Six months: divide the annual subscription rate by two, add 15 percent, and then round off to the next highest dollar.

For example—annual local rate of $30 divided by two—$15 times 115 percent equals $17.25—round off to $18.

Ol’ Pete’s grittin’ his teeth like he could bite the sites off his six-shooter.

Still didn’t get the renewal. Durn! Maybe you need to cozy up to the subscriber like a bull does to a heifer when the spring air comes.

How about a subscriber appreciation month? Offer a once-a-year discount to current subscribers. Not a deep discount, but significant enough for the newspaper to show its appreciation to faithful subscribers.

Keep in mind there are pluses beside the good public relations. First, it locks up subscribers for the long term. Second, it can provide a needed influx of cash during a month when cash flow is down.

This here’s ma las’ bullit!

Make it a guddin’

Yee haw!

Shucks!!!!! - bounced right off his bow ta.

Teel nex’ time, Pistol Pete!

© Ken Blum 2011

Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a free e-mail newsletter 40 times a year titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail; or phone 330-682-3416.

Step out into the street and reach for it

By Peter Wagner

Note: The streets grew quiet last month when Blazin’ Buckeye drew his six-shooter on me in an old-fashioned circulation shoot out. His best ideas up against mine, he told me, with rapid-fire delivery as either of us could pull the trigger. At least I think that’s what he said. And who is this Pistol Pete he keeps talking about. The truth is ol’ Buffalo Bill or Blazin’ Buck, or whatever he called himself, kind of talked funny. Still I’m always up to a challenge and I got off a few shots myself. More than one of them a bull’s eye, I think.

How about two months of free restaurant meals? That would be sure to beat the Ohio Kid’s chuck wagon eatin’ any day.”

At Iowa Information, we generate literally $1,000 to $15,000 in annual renewals every January with our Sheldon Mail-Sun Meal Deal card.

Process color promotion letters are sent out New Year’s Eve to every current Sheldon Mail-Sun subscriber. The letters offer a special once-a-year subscription offer good for only three weeks.

Those families responding to the offer will receive a special Mail-Sun Meal Deal card good for free second meal, second meals at half price and other unique dining specials. The Meal Deal punch card can be used anytime through the end of February.

The local restaurants, which are signed up in early December, provide the deals at no charge to the newspaper to boost traffic during a time when the cold and snow tends to keep dining customers home.

The punch cards are printed to fit a standard business envelope for easy mailing and are sent out daily to all subscribers paying that day. Newspaper ads are published in The Mail-Sun and our full circulation shopper a few days after the mailing to reach additional prospects not already on our subscriber list.

Along with generating an almost 70 percent renewal return in just 21 days, the promotion produces a huge circulation income during one of the traditionally worst months for advertising sales.

“Can you hut a bigger or better bulls eye than that, Blazin’ Buck?”

“Sometimes, Buckeye Guy, a surprise face-off is better than a traditional street fight.”

Once or twice a year we publish a new subscriber coupon offer at the top of The N’West Iowa REVIEW front page. Our designers place it right where that week’s teasers usually fly right over the flag.

The offer is printed in process color with an additional four weeks free, limited-time bonus with a one-year order. Although the same four extra weeks free offer is regularly printed inside the REVIEW, the surprise use of the front-page location always ropes in many more numbers than usual.

“Did you get that, Blazin’ Buckskin? Iowa cowboys know how to rope as well as how to shoot.”

“Modern gun fights more often take place on the football field than at the coral, Blazin’ Buckskin.” For more than 30 years The N’West Iowa REVIEW has built an outstanding reputation for reporting on the Friday night action at 17 area high schools and delivering it to readers every Saturday morning.

Fans love it and they love our expanded football results. We add hundreds of new and renewing subscribers every fall by placing single-sheet subscription offers under the windshield wipers of all the vehicles parked outside the football stadium while the fans are watching the game. The process color sheets, which include a reference to the very game they’ve just attended, offer a full year of great sports coverage at a discounted price. New subscribers can mail in the form and their check or call our inbound watts number and order with their credit card.

“So we’re not just into cattle, Ohio Kid. We know our pigskin, too. That’s something you should understand in Ohio, the hog slaughter capital of the world.”

“But you’ll never get a subscriber or me, alone, Buckskin. You need to make good use of your deputies, too.” We do that by arming our reporters, (and other staff members), with easy to hand out, and easy to use, free sample subscription cards. That way, when somebody asks for a copy of an upcoming story, the reporter can give that person an addressed free order card for a four-week sample subscription. After the sample period, the circulation department contacts the potential subscriber, offering a full year extension at a reduced “new subscriber” price.

“So Yee-haw yourself, Blazing Buckeye. You lose.” © Peter Wagner 2011

Peter W. Wagner is president of the National Newspaper Association Foundation and publisher of The N’West Iowa REVIEW at Sheldon, IA. He is a regular presenter at newspaper conventions and conferences. You can receive his free monthly sales training and promotion ideas newsletter by e-mailing him at

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