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Finding ad dollars when none seem to exist

In today’s struggling retail environment, garnering advertising dollars, whether online, in paper, special sections or niche publications continues to be an ongoing challenge.

Coupled with the evolving and changing advertising media (Consider the Internet’s impact on other media!), the media choices for many retailers may, at times, be overwhelming.

“No money to advertise!” Simply stated, this is an all-too-frequent objection refrain from a potential advertiser.

However, when business is tough to get and the retail or service provider sector continues to be challenging, “No money to advertise!” may be reality, from the potential advertiser’s point of view, rather than an objection.

When a small business owner feels (rather strongly) that she has no money to advertise, your selling opportunity shifts from one of overcoming an objection to one of education. To secure any ad dollars for your newspaper, you must first help her understand where to look and where to find dollars that may be utilized to invest in her business through advertising and promotion.

Within her business and without increasing her budget or without additional cash input, ad dollars do exist to invest in her business. Here are six areas to consider in your search for those elusive ad dollars:

  • Explore reducing overall salary expense, by reviewing her business’ hours of operation. Opening an hour later or closing an hour earlier without impacting customer service or revenue generates 20 hours (one hour/day x 20 days) of saved expense that may be converted to a $200/month ad budget (20 hours x $10/hour in payroll expense).
  • Bring her vendors and suppliers into the conversation. Inquire from each and every business that she does business with, if co-op advertising or extra promotional dollars exist to support their product placement in her business. Leverage enhanced product placement in her store or in her ads for those vendors willing to contribute to the promotion of their product or service.
  • Review her current inventory and purchasing habits and controls. Is it possible to tighten her inventory without impacting customer service or revenue, and shift those savings into an ad dollar investment?
  • Take a look at helping her initiate a joint neighborhood marketing effort. Inquire locally at the Chamber of Commerce or other city agencies to see if neighborhood promotional dollars or marketing opportunities are available for the asking. This strategy may also open the door for additional and new advertisers for you.
  • Challenge her to review her own remuneration schedule (e.g. her salary!). Remind her that a small reduction in her personal income this year make reap big benefits for her business and subsequently to her next year and down the road!
  • Last, but not least, help her clarify where her business dollars are going in support of her local community. Do some services or charities or groups duplicate others? Would a realignment of her dollar commitments maximize results while better allocating those funds?

“No money to advertise!” may simply be a challenge offered to you by an advertiser to find the money! Good luck and have fun!


Tablet adoption outpaces DVD adoption rates

We have more information about news consumption than ever before.

Problem is, we’re not sure what it all means, or how it will impact the future of community journalism.

Let’s take something that came out just this week: The Pew Research Center tells us that tablet computers are exploding in popularity. For instance: it took the iPad one quarter to reach the same rate of unit sales that DVD players took five years to achieve. Which is not to say that we were slow to part with VHS and move to DVDs. In fact, it was considered a phenomenally quick transition for a nation where so many people already had a VHS player next to their TV sets.

Phenomenal, that is, until the tablet came along. Now 11 percent of American adults have Internet access via tablets. At its current rate, the iPad will pass gaming hardware and cellphones to become the fourth biggest consumer electronics category next year.

And what does that mean for news? Of tablet owners, 77 percent read the news on their device once a week, and 23 percent have a print subscription that gives them free access to tablet services.

That’s the good news. On the other hand, only 21 percent of those who don’t have news access would be willing to pay $5 a month to access their favorite tablet news site.

It’s just one more confusing part of the media future into which we’re rushing headlong. The bottom line for community journalism? Nobody knows how all of this will shake out, but we have to stay abreast of the issues and trends, so that we won’t be starting from scratch when it’s time to make some critical decisions that will affect our newspapers and news sites.


New Jobs biography is a window to the future of community journalism

The new Walter Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs is probably something every publisher and editor in community journalism should read. 

As Politico’s Playbook tip sheet pointed out this morning, the main message of the book is this:  Know how to cut to the essence.  Jobs was a master at focusing on a few things – the most important things.  It’s a lesson we must learn in community journalism.

For years, we’ve focused as much on the medium as the message.  I can still remember my mother’s reaction when I first told her I had decided to become a journalist, back in 1966.  Her small-town Arkansas experience was exclusively with community newspapers, and she looked at me and asked a question I’ll never forget:  “Does this mean you’ll have ink smudges on your hands for the rest of your life?”

She was serious.

For mom, what she knew of journalism was inextricably wrapped up in that ink-on-newsprint product. It never occurred to her that they could be separated.

That was 40 years ago, but that world could as well have been 200 years ago.  Then, we called even the news by the name of the medium on which it was printed—the news was “the paper.”

And that worked for then.  It started changing when news started arriving by radio, then by television, then on your computer, and now on your mobile devices.  Steve Jobs started out as a computer guy, but he was one of the first to realize he wasn’t in the computer business – he was in the business of delivering information and entertainment … literally of bringing the world to your fingertips.

One of the stories in Isaacson’s book, according to Politico, is the story of when Apple execs were brainstorming the product that ultimately became the iDVD:  Jobs “jumped up, grabbed a marker, and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard.  ‘Here’s the new application.  It’s just got one window.  You drag your video into the window.  Then you click the button that says “Burn.”  That’s it.  That’s what we are going to make.’”

Jobs knew what business he was in – and that computers were the means, not the end.

This ain’t our fathers’ community journalism.  We do indeed publish a paper, and probably will for some time.  But that’s not our business.  Our business is news and information and entertainment.  Our business is putting people in touch with their community, and doing it so well that we provide an excellent platform for advertisers to reach that audience of news and entertainment consumers.  Our job is to be the go-to place to connect readers and viewers not only with events and news, but also with each other.

Our flagship is the newspaper.  But that paper product must now work in tandem with our website and with our social media platform.  Gone are the days when we thought only of getting something into the newspaper the next time it published.  Have you seen the commercials where these guys are playing with their tablets at football tailgate and someone comes up with a late news flash, and they respond, “That’s so 27 seconds ago”?

That’s not our current reality in community journalism, but that mentality is soaking into our audience – especially our young audience, our future – every time they turn onto a TV set or look at Facebook on their iPhone.

We have to realize what Steve Jobs realized, what made him a visionary; we have to figure out what our real business is, and to be relentless about pursuing it.

It’s scary, but it’s our future.

And besides, our hands will be a lot cleaner.


Is this Postalgeddon?

The Postal Service, reacting to worsening finances, and perhaps to get the attention of Congress on its need for legitimate relief, announced plans Sept. 15 to study closing more than half of its mail-processing facilities around the country.

As explained by Vice President Network Operations Dave Williams, the existing network was expanded over time primarily to serve growing First-Class volume. With that class in sharp decline, the network must be reconfigured. Therefore, the sad reality is that because First-Class Mail is declining, USPS thinks that it must make plant changes that will, in effect, ensure that other volumes face the same fate.

Although proposals on service standards would end overnight First-Class delivery, and on paper, only change Periodicals standards nationwide from one to nine days to two to nine days. Make no mistake: Service will decline for Periodicals and other classes of mail not entered at the office of delivery. USPS is effectively becoming a last-mile delivery agent only. Otherwise, it will not be a reliable “delivery partner.”

Reduction is Draconian

The proposed plant reduction can only be termed Draconian, and it holds special significance for community newspapers, which enter their mail mostly in or near small Sectional Center Facilities. Then it flows from those SCFs to many other ZIPs within the news coverage territory, or trade area where advertising is most effective.  In Salida, Colo., for instance, Publisher Merle Baranczyk gets next-day delivery to post offices in all directions via highway contract routes from his Salida SCF, which is on the closure-study list for merger into Denver.

The plan, expected to save $3 billion a year, would expand on existing Area Mail Processing consolidation studies that have been increasing in frequency the past few years. Judging by the sharp deterioration in service based on the AMPs put into place so far, the proposed changes, if implemented, would in most cases take newspapers much farther away for processing and handling.

In Kentucky, for example, a Bowling Green AMP sending mail to Nashville for processing caused delivery to degrade from two days to five days for a Periodical owned by Landmark Community Newspapers. When the customer paid an upgrade fee for First-Class, which has a three-day nationwide service standard, the delivery still took five days, infuriating the customer.

Similar stories have been heard from the National Newspaper Association members across the country. USPS management assurances that existing service standards will be maintained or only degraded one day under AMPs have been false. There is no reason to believe that the massive proposed changes would do anything but severely disrupt delivery of Periodicals and all other classes of mail.


Make no mistake about it: This proposal, while said to be necessary with USPS financial losses, will surely do nothing but hasten the Postal Service’s demise as a meaningful conduit of hard-copy commerce. NNA firmly believes the five-day delivery proposal will also back up mail, reduce delivery service nationwide, and notes with regret that the Obama administration proposal on USPS Sept. 19, includes shifting to five-day. Add the two changes together, and it’s no exaggeration to term it “Postalgeddon.”  (With 10-12 Monday holidays, there will be three days without mail delivery.)

Although the administration does ask for return of a $7 billion over-payment by USPS into the Federal Employee Retirement System (but over two years), it does not relieve the unfair pre-payment of $5.5 billion a year for retiree health benefits, something imposed on USPS as another “budget trick” to help the federal deficit in 2006.

It’s a shame that an agency supported only by mailer postage would be made a perpetual deficit punching bag because it’s part of the unified federal budget.

Obama also proposes to allow price increases above the rate of inflation, reversing the 2006 postal reform bill. Raising prices drastically, especially during a continuing nationwide recession with severe cuts in service, is a “perfect storm,” to continue the clichés (though true), for an ever-weaker USPS.

DDU entry a necessity

Clearly, newspapers can maintain local delivery by using Exceptional Dispatch privileges in DMM 707.28.3 to drop copies at the office of delivery using the paper’s transportation for “trade-area” offices that are critical to the success of readers and advertisers in the newspaper’s county and surrounding counties. That is one avenue for time-sensitive Periodicals not available to other classes of mail.

NNA is fighting hard to keep local-entry access and timely delivery alive in testimony filed Sept. 16 with the Postal Regulatory Commission in the post office closing review case. All newspapers in the country that are non-members of NNA should be begging to join to help preserve local access.

Unfortunately, distant subscribers could soon be a thing of the past, if all this comes to pass. While older subscribers who have moved away are loyal, they don’t always embrace the Web. But most newspapers are beginning to sell Web-based subscriptions. NNA’s effort since 2007 to get paid PDF facsimile subscriptions count on the postal Statement of Ownership, PS Form 3526, should be finalized in 2012.

What newspapers can do

First, go to, then click on the article “U.S. Postal Service must make changes with community papers in mind,” and find the link to plant closings at the bottom of the article. If you are not a member, join us in this fight by finding the box to join NNA. We desperately need all the support we can get to engage Congress and get the best possible results for community newspapers.

Secondly, call your U.S. senators and representatives. Quickly! Let them know how severely you think these changes will affect delivery, and ask them to vote to approve returning both the $5.5 billion per year wrongly assessed USPS as well as the $7 billion proposed by Obama. Ask that USPS not be made a victim of the 2011 federal deficit fight, and risk destroying an important institution of commerce.

Thirdly, start moving more mail to Exceptional Dispatch DDU drops, or at least have plans to do so if the plant cuts proposed actually move forward (and the likelihood is high).


This blog post was used by permission of Publisher’s Auxiliary.


When shooting high school football, don’t forget feature photos

Photo by Jason Fochtman

During a recent high school football game, the local band wore special 'Marching for Ryan' t-shirts during the game.

It sparked my curiosity, and I found the shirts were for a band member who marched his last performance that night.

The 16-year-old sophomore is scheduled to have his 15th and most invasive neck surgery to drain fluid and put in metal rods to support his head. According to his mom, doctors discovered a tumor when he was nine months old that required aggressive treatment. The radiation used to shrink the tumor weakened his neck muscles and has lead to Ryan having 14 surgeries.

Photo by Jason Fochtman

When covering high school football, or any sport for that matter, it’s easy to zone in on the action happening on the field and forget that there are photo opportunities away from the action.

Had I just showed up to shoot the football action on the field, I would have missed this great story and feature art.

From the band, cheerleaders, student section, student council and fans, there are many different organizations that come together to make up the game day atmosphere.

If I have the time, I try to get to the game an hour beforehand, that way I can get my laptop set up in the press box, grab a roster and head down to shoot pregame images.

You should have plenty of good late afternoon light to work with, so look for students hanging signs, parents bringing in concession food and the band unloading and getting ready to come into the stadium.

Most of the time, photographers gather around the field to get the photo of the teams taking the field, next time try going up in the student section and look for students cheering.

Last Friday, I spent the first few minutes of the game in the stands instead of on the sidelines.

I walked away with some great images that none of the other photographers got that evening.