Got the journalism blues? We’ve got your song

First, an economic downtown.  Then competition from digital media.  Then classified all but disappeared and all ad revenues plummeted.  Then layoffs.  Then more of the same.

Journalists have certainly had enough to sing the blues about.

But maybe they haven’t a great blues song to sing, one that reflected what was happening in journalism, and especially community journalism.

But now they do, courtesy of the Texas Center for Community journalism.

It started with a blues song written by veteran journalist Donna Darovich, a lyricist well-known for her work in the Fort Worth SPJ Gridiron shows, which were discontinued in 1996.

I saw Darovich’s lyrics and urged her to add more references to the unique world of community journalism, and The Journalism Blues was born.

To make the video, we enlisted a faculty blues band from the TCU Schieffer School of Journalism – The South Moudy Blues (so named from the Moudy Building South  at TCU where most of them have offices) – and audio and video help from the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media at the university.

We wanted a blues song that really reflected some of the dilemmas of today’s community journalist.  The song talks about everything from competition with Craigslist and Patch to the problems many long-time journalists have in adapting to a digital world.  It’s the real-world journalism blues, pure and simple.

The video  and its lyrics can be accessed at /journalism-blues.


The Journalism Blues: What happened to the news?


I once was a reporter, I used a pad and pen
I only had to find out who, what, where and when
Now they want a podcast, take a photo with my phone,
Write a blog and post on Facebook; never felt so all alone

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
Help me keep my head up;
Save me from the jour na lism blues!

I once was a gatekeeper. I always checked my facts and beat
Now nobody cares; they just wanna see me Tweet.
They all want a quick read, news from the Internet
I know times they are a changing, but they ain’t gonna see me sweat

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
You know I’m lost about what’s happenin’
Save me from the jour na lism blues!

Got to keep a charger powered ‘cause I write from a laptop.
Work my beat by email; news room’s a Starbucks coffee shop
No one assigns investigation, no one lets me rake some muck
They’re putting ads on the front page. How much more can this suck?

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
Help me keep my head up;
Save me from the jour na lism blues!

Got me some financing for a paper of my own
Sold everything and then some; my retirement fund is blown
Then along comes Patch; my advertisers jump with glee.
Some zit-faced kid from Dallas says he’ll give ‘em space for free.

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
Help me keep my head up;
Save me from the jour na lism blues!

I’m in community journalism, they love my paper here,
The kind of place where all the local meetings start with prayer
But I tried to sell some classifieds, and my sales pitch they dismissed!
Anybody know a hit man who will find Craig and his list?!

Lord I need a vacation, need to get away from here,
But I’m my only employee, what a hell of a career
If it’s done I do it, do you think that sounds like fun
Cause I sweep and clean the toilets when my editor’s work is done

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
Help me keep my head up;
Save me from the jour na lism blues!

Oh Lord, what’s happened to the news?
I’ll be in church next Sunday
Just save me from the jour na lism blues!

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The Band The South Moudy Blues (@SouthMoudyBlues) – Bill Johnson, Steve Levering (@levering) and David Whillock
Lyrics Donna Darovich (@Flackgirl)
Producer Tommy Thomason (@thomason)
Audio/Video Andy Haskett
Photography Rebecca Philp
Editing Greg Mansur
Online presentation Andrew Chavez (@adchavez)
Sponsored by Texas Center for Community Journalism (@tccj)


Convincing advertisers newspapers work is difficult, but not impossible

“We tried newspapers. They don’t work!”

“We tried your newspaper. It didn’t work!”

“I tried advertising on your newspaper’s web site a few years ago and really didn't get any new business from it.”

You have probably heard the above refrains — not once, not twice, but a few times too many. How do you answer these objections?  They are tough to overcome … but not impossible! 

Consider this strategy:

First and foremost, acknowledge that you have heard your potential advertiser’s objection … show some empathy!  Remember, too, that objections are not problems. They are opportunities to excel!

After acknowledging that you have heard them, resist going on the defensive. Rather, ask this simple question: How do you know? In most cases, retailers, service providers or small businesses simply don’t know whether their advertising has worked, in terms of generating sales results, regardless of the investment cost or its nature.

As you know, many reasons could contribute to a less-than-successful ad or promotional effort: An initial error in identifying the target audience which, in turn, may have lead to incorrect media selection; poor merchandise or sale offered; weather; poorly designed ad copy.  Also, the retailer may believe but cannot confirm poor performance or the ad tracking results may not be available. Or there may have been poor positioning on the newspaper’s web site.  Or a better competitive offer from some other retailer offered at the same time. It is not always possible to review a past unsuccessful advertising investment and determine the reasons it was not a success.

Inasmuch as many small businesses may not know how to effectively determine whether their advertising investment generated results or not, you have an opportunity for a teachable moment and an opportunity to build your integrity and relationship with your potential client.

Help your current and potential advertisers understand the value of tracking their advertising investment and its effectiveness – the results of the ad. Tracking results helps to identify which media best reach their target audience, which product or service promotion yields the best results, and when is the best timing (daily, weekly or monthly) for ad placement.

A relatively easy method is to track revenue changes. Two weeks prior to scheduling the first ad in an advertising campaign, the retailer should review total revenue for the entire store in a given time period (e.g. each day). The retailer should then monitor total revenue during the advertising campaign (e.g. while the ads are running).  And finally, the retailer should analyze total revenue for the entire store in the same given time period (e.g. each day) two weeks after the ad campaign is completed. In addition to tracking revenue, number of transactions, overall inventory changes and changes in advertised inventory are additional means of tracking ad effectiveness in a similar manner.

Ask your potential advertisers for a couple of minutes to allow you help them to map out the future rather than redesigning the past! Explore with your potential client some strategic initiatives (where are you now? what do you want to move away from? what do you want to move to?) by asking questions … and more questions (how do they plan to grow their business, describe your best customer, etc.).

Once you have clarified your potential advertiser’s goals and introduced a tracking method, begin rebuilding the value of newspaper products and your newspaper’s various products. Who reads newspapers? Who reads your newspaper or visits your newspaper’s web site? Back up your value statements with proof positive — testimonials, both from your readers and your advertisers.

Walk your prospect through your newspaper, pointing out some successful and campaign-orientated advertisers. Let them hold your newspaper and watch how they interact with it. What do they like or dislike about it?

Visit your newspaper’s web site. Point out its everyday strengths and ongoing resources (breaking news, local and current reference tools, obits, community information and events). Then just listen. “Nothing I say today will teach me anything. If I am going to learn anything I need to listen!” What valuable feedback is being shared with you? What short term and long term potential exists based on this new client information?

Last but not least, always encourage your current and potential advertisers to invest in an advertising campaign. A single, one-time promotion or ad puts your newspaper franchise and you at risk and, more importantly, wastes your advertisers’ ad dollars and time.

One-time coupons to track response should be refused! Again, don’t put your newspaper franchise and you at risk. Coupons are a promotional vehicle.  They also bring in a less profitable customer for your advertiser.  

Once you have acknowledged your prospect’s objection, outlined the benefits of tracking their advertising investment response and rebuilt your newspaper product’s value, then demonstrate proof-positive — offer a different point of view or a solution or a proposal and close the sale.  Ask for the business!

Advertising campaigns + Methods to track their effectiveness (Results) = Advertiser success (Growth) and ongoing investment in you and your newspaper products.


How to respond to ad customers who want to buy only one ad

Like any sales person, I hate to hear a prospect tell me “no.”  But, I’d much rather hear an outright “no” than have someone tell me, “I’ll try an ad and if I get some business, we’ll take it from there.”

I prefer the “no” because I will have a chance to sell that customer another day. The “buy an ad” response is a trap that sets me up for long-term failure. In most cases, a “one shot” program will not produce noticeable results. One of the most challenging objections to overcome is, “I tried advertising in the past and it didn’t work.”

When I probe these prospects further, almost always I find that when they “tried advertising,” they had run just one or two ads. This would be equivalent to taking a dip in the pool once or twice a year and then being surprised when you don’t make the Olympic Swim Team. To be successful a sales person needs to sell their prospects on the benefits of advertising frequently.

Elements of effective advertising programs

There are three components of an effective advertising program: Reach, Frequency and Message. Reach is easy to understand; advertisers know they must get their name in front of a potential customer if they want a chance to sell them. Likewise, they must reach these people with a compelling message that will entice them to patronize the advertiser’s business. The importance of reach and message are relatively easy to explain. Maps and spec ads provide tangible examples of these aspects of a well-crafted advertising program. The importance of consistent advertising is much harder to demonstrate because frequency does its work inside the human brain.

Why TOMA matters

Advertising sales people have talked about TOMA (Top of Mind Awareness) for many years. Recent psychological and economic research has explained the mechanism behind this concept. Sociologist Niklas Luhmann stated that, “Familiarity is a pre-condition of trust.” Researchers found that the more familiar a person is with a firm, the more likely they are to make a purchase from that firm. One of the senior reps that I work with tells his customers, “My job is to make you famous.” Frequent advertising does just this. By staying in front of the customer, a business makes their name familiar to potential customers. When making a buying decision, consumers prefer to spend their money with a company whose name they know and therefore, trust.

The thin market—I’ll be right here when you need me

America is the land of the microwave pancake. We are an impatient people. Consumer research has found that most sales are made within 24 hours of the decision to buy. Another 25 percent of sales are made within a week of the decision to buy. This means 75 percent of sales are made within seven days of the moment when a consumer decides to make that purchase. If a consumer decides he or she a pair of shoes in a week when Jones’ shoe doesn’t advertise and Smith’s shoes runs a sale, guess who gets the business? 

The “Thin Market Concept” describes the distribution of sales throughout a certain period of time, a year for most products, shorter for seasonal items. For example, if consumers in a certain market purchase 200 washing machines in a year, appliance dealers in that area will sell about four machines per week. If an advertiser decides to skip just one week per month, and taking consumer behavior into account, they will miss the opportunity to make 48 sales (12 weeks X 4 machines per week).

These opportunities can never be recovered. In addition to the lost revenue, these businesses have lost the chance to build a relationship with a new customer. The “Thin Market” highlights the risks businesses take when they do not advertise consistently.

The sale is in the eye of the beholder

I work with an advertiser whose ad is virtually invisible to most of my readers. He runs a large display program 52 week a year, but most people simply don’t notice his ad. This customer owns a business that specializes in emergency water heater replacement.  He doesn’t care that most people pay no attention to his ad, because he knows that it screams at the people who need his service. Neuroscientists have named this phenomenon “Reticular Activation,” after the reticular cortex in the brain. The job of the reticular cortex is to protect the brain from information overload. To make sense of a complex world, our brains are conditioned to filter out all but the most interesting and important data. This is why if you decide to buy a Honda Civic, suddenly you start seeing Civics everywhere. By advertising consistently, my plumber customer made sure people would have access to his ad when they needed him.

Selling frequency

As a sales manager, I also told my reps that I never wanted them to sell an ad.  I wanted my people to always sell programs. Even a fire station advertising their annual carnival benefits from frequency. They can generate interest in their event by running a series of ads in the weeks leading up to the event. I encouraged my reps to refuse single ads. This is not easy for a commissioned rep to do, but it is in their best interest. Consistent advertising produces results and leads to solid customer relationships. Here are some ideas to help you sell advertisers programs that will make them (and their rep) successful.

  • Think contract from the first contact. When approaching new prospects, plan to sell them a program. Build your presentation around the benefits of consistent advertising.
  • Get the client thinking long term. When probing for information, ask prospects about their goals and long-term plans. Ask them where they want the business to be in five or 10 years and what must happen for them to achieve their goals. This will put them in the right frame of mind to discuss long term advertising.
  • Don’t take the quick sale. As discussed above, customers who run an ad now and then are unlikely to get measurable results. If a customer suggests doing this, defend your program recommendation. Concentrate your efforts on building your territory, not on making a quick sale. This will pay dividends in the long run.
  • To sell a program, plan a program. Develop a marketing plan for your prospects. Talk to them about different approaches for different aspects of their business. Talk to them about how to promote their business in different seasons. This approach will help them see the benefits of long-term programs.
  • Advertising agreements are more than a discount. If your publication offers a discount to advertisers for making a commitment, do not try to sell the program on price. Position the program based on the benefits of consistent advertising. If the customer is not totally sold on the value of the program, it is not likely that the discount will motivate them.  If the focus is on simply saving money, they can accomplish this by simply cutting back on their advertising.
  • Manage the customer’s expectations. Don’t promise the customer immediate results, remind them that they are building a program that will produce long term results. Stay close to the customer and help them develop their ads and reassure them that they made the right decision. One of my reps tells a customer not to expect any increase in business for three months. When advertisers begin getting results in a month or so they are pleasantly surprised.

Be committed to selling advertising commitments

Selling long-term programs is always difficult. The recession has made this even more challenging. In an uncertain economy, customers are nervous about making a commitment. The key to overcoming this objection is reminding customers that they committing to the success of their business. Business owners have already made many commitments — they have financial commitments, commitments to their suppliers and to their employees. Committing to an advertising program is a minor commitment which protects all of their other commitments.

As a professional advertising salesperson, my job is to help my customers to be successful. My training and my experience tells me that the best way to help my customers is to keep them in front of their customers. Selling ads is easy; selling advertising programs requires a professional.

Professionals must sometimes tell people things they don’t want to hear, but need to hear. Professionals help people understand what is best for them. We show our commitment to our customers by convincing them to commit to their own futures. I’ll finish with the words of Edwin L. Artzt, CEO of Proctor & Gamble:  “No company that sells products or services to the consumer can remain a leader in its field without a deep-seated commitment to advertising.” 

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

What do I tell people who say “Advertising doesn’t work”?

Question– Our folks in this town always want to run an ad for one week and expect people to beat their door down. Also, I hear "advertising doesn't work" all the time from many businesses. I am armed with some counter responses, but can you could briefly give me a few extra ideas I could use?

Answer: Before I answer your question, allow me to reiterate some points that will frame my answer for you. As you may know, many of these points I have discussed and outlined in depth during my past TCCJ visits and workshops.

When business is tough to get, it’s very easy for small businesses to look for a quick fix to their sales slowdown. In responding to their anxieties (and fears?), don’t forget that part of your selling job is also educational in nature. It’s important to remind and teach your advertisers and potential advertisers some key marketing and advertising strategies to be successful, particularly in these challenging economic times.

First and foremost, teach your small retailer/service provider/business that they need to maintain a constant awareness in their marketplace (e.g., your community) of “who they are” and “what they do.” This can NOT be achieved with a one-time ad or coupon. A consistent marketing strategy is the only strategy to achieve long-term success and growth.

When you are meeting with your client, carefully outline the strategy and benefits of an advertising campaign (e.g. a series of ads, within a timeframe, with a fixed or allocated budget, to meet an identified need, problem or opportunity, with a desired outcome).

Remind your client that an advertising campaign is an investment in their business. To drive home this point, you should no longer accept one-time ads.  Tell your client that one-time ads are an unproven expense (e.g., your clients are correct.  One-time advertising does not work!), but an advertising campaign is a long-term investment that will generate results for their business.

Once your client understands and accepts this advertising and marketing strategy, you should clarify two points before the campaign begins:  Clients should have a clear understanding of how their business will support the campaign and what are their expectations of the advertising campaign.

Encourage your clients to explore a number of options they can do to support the campaign. Suggest they prominently display signs, brochures and reminders throughout their store or office that ties into their print and online advertising campaign.

Recommend they consider ordering more of the advertised merchandise (sizes, colors, styles), strategize with them about relocating a merchandise display to a prime location in their store, and last but not least, be sure you coach them about the importance of telling and teaching their employees about the campaign and the best way to maximize selling opportunities when they are face to face with a potential customer.

In regard to expectations, your client may take 1 percent of your newspaper’s audience (print and outline) or readership figures (Remember it’s all about audience, not circulation numbers. Numbers buy nothing!) and tell you that’s what they expect in their place of business the day of and a few days after their advertising campaign.

It’s at this time, when they are outlining their expectations, that you will have a teachable moment! Acknowledge that you heard your client’s expectations and share with them that they may be a little optimistic for immediate results for a long term advertising investment.

Begin your teachable moment by reminding your client that there are a very small number of buyers in the market at any one time. Buyers come in and go out of the marketplace when they plan purchases, make unplanned purchases or postpone purchases.

When your clients begin their advertising campaign, reinforce again and again that the campaign is accomplishing a number of benefits to their business that may not be readily noticeable or produce immediate sales.

Yes, advertising offers a service or product for sale to buyers in the marketplace at that time. But that same advertising also builds “top-of-mind awareness” for their business or service. When an individual becomes a buyer in the future, this “top-of-mind awareness” will be recalled by the potential buyer because of that ad campaign.  That potential buyer then has a higher likelihood a becoming a customer of your client’s business.

In addition to immediate sales and building top-of-mind awareness, the same advertising campaign reinforces past purchases and buyer decisions of current and past customers, encouraging them to visit your client’s business or service again.

Two more benefits of the same advertising campaign should be discussed with your client. Review other ads in your paper or on your newspaper’s web site and show that other businesses’ advertising campaigns talk to the community, show their support of the community, and demonstrate their commitment to the community. Your clients will accomplish the same with their advertising campaign.

Their campaign also allows your client to talk to her current employees, who see the advertising campaign and share it with others (“I work there, it’s a great place!”) and future employees (“I see their ads all the time, they have some great merchandise. I would love to work there!”).

Late next week on my TCCJ blog I will post some methods you can utilize to teach your advertisers, retailers, service providers and small business to track their advertising and measure its results.

In closing, remember that when business is tough to get, anxieties build. They build for your advertisers and potential advertisers (e.g., sales) and they build for you (e.g., revenue for you and your newspaper).

Minimize those anxieties of both parties by acknowledging that a major component of your selling experience is educating your existing and potential clients. The more they know about the strategic opportunities your newspaper products offer for their business or service, the more successful they can be in their print and online advertising.

The more you know about an advertiser’s or potential advertiser’s business or service, the more you can assist them in being successful.

Be patient.  Ask for their business when the best opportunity presents itself. But remember that you must present yourself as a business consultant to them, not an ad salesperson for your newspaper.  Your job is to make them successful – to make money for your clients by helping them implement a well-thought-out, clearly defined advertising campaign.

You can do this … you know you can! Good luck and have fun!


Reporting Texas offers in-depth reporting on state, regional issues

Reporting Texas is based in Austin, but as its name conveys, its journalistic reach goes beyond the state capital. And its mission is greater than gaining exposure for the University of Texas journalism students who write for the site.

“Reporting Texas is the University of Texas’ investment in the future of journalism,” said Tracy Dahlby, the UT professor who founded the site after receiving a grant from the Carnegie-Knight Foundation. That investment has expanded from giving students the opportunity to practice their craft to providing content to publications across Texas.  We’d like to become a state feature wire that complements local coverage. Sometimes, the goals intersect – a feature about a Texas State professor was picked up by the San Marcos Mercury.

The journalism students, most of them in the master’s professional track, feed the site with enterprise and features about a variety of subjects. This semester, we’ve written about the controversy over chicken industry in Central Texas, the water lily expert in San Angelo, Alzheimer’s disease and the barefoot running trend. Our work also mirrors the news cycle, with pieces about the state’s new climate normals, a story suggested by and published in The Austin American-Statesman; the increase in Bastrop home sales since the fires and the link between the Occupy movement and Bank Transfer Day.

All these articles, which are professionally edited, are available to media in the state. There’s no charge, but that’s not because we don’t value what we do. We’re a startup, and we want to get the word out about our product.

If you want use our features (and the multimedia with it) or want to suggest a story for your publication, contact me or Mark Coddington, the web editor of Reporting Texas. Our main requirement is that the reporter gets a byline and Reporting Texas shares credit. ([email protected]; [email protected])

If you’re interested in newsy features (how flu shots are made), evergreen pieces (an Austin version of storage unit wars) or hidden stories about the state (a multimedia piece on rodeo clowns), look to Reporting Texas. We also distribute a weekly budget via e-mail, so let me know if you’ve like to receive it.  We’re proud of our reporting, and we think your readers will enjoy reading it, too.