So here’s the quiz: Think of a media industry that’s facing real problems. The product of this industry used to be commonplace – everybody knew about it and pretty much everybody used it. Then a new medium came along with a significant challenge – people were getting the output of this industry easily, in their own homes, quickly on demand…and it was free! The industry asked what would happen when people could access for free what they were selling. Predictions for the future were understandably dire. And here’s the kicker – this isn’t about newspapers. It’s the music industry. Read Brad King’s take on why newspapers are wrong to circle the wagons and determine that they must make the square peg that is the old business model fit into the round hole of new media.
Steve Outing’s Nov. 30 “Stop the Presses” column in E&P focuses on community newspapers and their struggles to define the role of their online editions. Specifically, whether or not to erect pay walls. Outing tells about some smaller newspapers who come down on each side of the debate and fairly summarizes pros and cons. If you’re looking to make sure you consider all your options before you make a final decision on putting online content behind a pay wall, be sure to read this column. And especially, read through to the end and look at his section on the four negative consequences to your paper of putting most content behind the wall. There’s so much discussion out there on this issue right now, but Outing summarizes the issues fairly, so take time to look at this one.
I think it’s clear that non-profit options are going to be part of at least the short-term future of community media (I’d be suspicious of anyone who purports to predict the long-term future). We have seen a recent proliferation of journalism supported by philanthropy and/or public donations — mostly, if not entirely, on a metro or state or national basis in projects such as MinnPost, the St. Louis Beacon, Texas Tribune and ProPublica.
A couple of community-focused operations that I know of are Champaign News-Gazette, owned by the Marajen Stevick Foundation, and the Anniston Star, which the Ayers family is turning over to a trust, affiliated with the University of Alabama, arrangements similar to the Poynter-St. Petersburg Times relationship. But the Star and News-Gazette are really mid-sized papers, smaller than the metros, but still much bigger than small dailies and weeklies.
I do expect someone to try a non-profit approach (or perhaps an L3C, low-profit, limited liability company) in a smaller community. Or perhaps some people are already doing it and I don’t know about it because the bigger ones get more attention.
One of the situations you always need to address in a non-profit journalism operation is where does the money come from. In a smaller community, you might be more likely to have the funding come from a powerful local person or organization, which will raise questions (perception, if not reality) about how independent and credible the new organization will be in covering that person or organization’s other community involvements. However, that’s not all that different from the questions that for-profit publishers have always faced in how their news organizations cover their other business interests and community activities.
I do hope some people try non-profit models at the community level. I think we need a wide range of experimentation to find the best models to support a prosperous future. But I do agree with my former boss at the American Press Institute, Drew Davis, who often said (quoting a former boss himself, as I recall) that the best guarantee of a free press is a profitable press.
I favor pursuit of new revenue streams, such as I have described in my Complete Community Connection and Mobile-First Strategy blog posts. I think those are potential paths to a profitable future and I know that other people are pursuing other paths to a profitable future. I think the future of journalism at all levels, including the community level, is a future of multiple models. And I believe non-profit models are part of that future. I look forward to learning from a Texas community news organization that gives it a try.
If you’re still trying to get the hang of video editing, then you might want to check out this upcoming free “Webinar” from YouTube. Registration is open online. The seminar is geared toward those who are just getting into video, so if that’s you check this out. The session begins Dec. 17 at 1 p.m.
Whenever you come up against your clients moving ad dollars to another medium, you need to ask them a few questions and ask yourself some questions, too.
For the advertiser who has added or moved ad dollars to other media, begin by asking: “What do you hope to accomplish by using ___?” Your advertiser might answer: to reach a new market, to test a new media, to save money, or to complement and reinforce some other media they are using. Once your advertiser clarifies what his or her strategy is, it becomes easier for you to put together a counterproposal.
You must also ask yourself a question. First, when was the last time you sat down with this advertiser, or, for that matter, all your advertisers, and reiterated, reinforced, and updated your newspaper and your newspaper’s Web site’s statement? A presentation on your audience, results, market coverage and affordability may be your first and foremost strategy.
The competitor’s pitch
A favorite tactic our competitors use against newspaper advertising is to try to get our clients to reduce their exposure in our newspaper and switch those “available” dollars to their medium. They constantly remind advertisers of circulation declines and how newspapers have lost Generation ‘Y’. They typically recommend that our customers reduce the frequency of their newspaper ads, reduce their ad size, or drop all color and run only black and white ads.
In the face of new or strengthened competition, don’t reduce your price. You can have more money if you change your approach by having more confidence and more belief in your newspaper and your newspaper Web site. Use testimonials of other advertisers to that effect. Never, ever, ever believe or develop the habit that you have to haggle or bargain over price with a potential advertiser.
There are some things to remember regarding (typical) billboards, or, as I like to say: Billboards – Seen in a FLASH: There are some pluses for this medium: it’s available 24 hours, there’s color availability, and they have strong reach, frequency, and location. But there are also some challenges: short viewing time, they’re seen by the same individuals, billboards aren’t flexible, afford a limited message, and will eventually (even digital) blend into the background.
According to the Outdoor Ad Association of America, billboard revenues have been down the last six quarters. But with digital signage, outdoor vendors have been able to raise revenue by showing multiple ads on a single billboard, as well as vary rates by selling dayparts corresponding to heavy commuting periods. The new technology is giving advertisers the unparalleled ability to change their ad messages quickly and efficiently. Digital technology’s marriage to billboards has opened up a number of countless benefits to diverse groups of consumers.
Some possible reasons your advertisers are considering digital billboards might be timeliness (e.g. to community weather/local events), to test the new medium, the ability (additional cost?) to change their message throughout the day, as a tie-in to another media they are using (your paper, their Web site) or for the sight and sound factor (… the flash, or visual impact).
The newspaper advantage
Like all media, electronic billboards have some pluses and minuses. So don’t knock the competition. Rather, identify (through questions) what your advertisers want to accomplish strategically when they use various media. Newspapers, whether in print or online, have a distinct local audience that trusts them.
Why are your paper and your newspaper’s Web site a better choice than a digital billboard?
- A newspaper covers a tight geographic area, giving the reader and advertiser a strong sense of community.
- It’s typically retained all week for more viewings, review and reference — not only to articles and community information, but also to the advertisements.
- Coupled with your newspaper’s Web site, you can offer print (to tell the story) and online (for daily timeliness and sight and sound).
- Last, but not least, remind your advertisers that every day, there’s a small number of buyers in the market place — your paper and your newspaper’s web site reach and sell them on a regular basis weekly in print and daily with your newspaper Web site. With digital billboard media, the buyer and the message need to be at the same point at the same time.
Once you have uncovered their strategic plan (e.g. your advertiser’s need, problem or opportunity), use your consultative selling skills to offer a solution backed with proof positive (reader, viewer, advertiser testimonials).
Thanks again for your question. Good luck!
Here are some resources on outdoor advertising: