Benefits aren’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition for advertisers

I am in the process of reading Walter Issacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs. Reading biographies of recognized leaders is an effective way to learn from their successes and to avoid the mistakes they made.

Steve Jobs understood that to build a great company he needed to recruit great people. He knew that having his friend and early collaborator Steve Wozniak on board was critical for Apple’s success. Wozniak’s genius for computer engineering was behind many of the company’s early products.

Wozniak turned down the offer to be a major partner and founder of Apple. The chance to be an executive and to become a very wealthy man could not entice him to leave his job as an engineer for Hewlett-Packard. Steve Jobs begged him to leave HP and even got Wozniak’s parents to put pressure on him, but “Woz” wouldn’t budge. Finally, Mike Markkula, a mutual friend, intervened and convinced Wozniak to join Apple.

How did he convince him to make the move? Markkula understood that Wozniak wasn’t interested in money and actually hated the idea of having to boss other people around. He knew that the only thing “Woz” cared about was engineering and designing new hardware and software. Markkula convinced Wozniak that eventually HP would force him to accept a promotion and leave the lab. He told him that at Apple he could exercise his creativity and do nothing but work on his own designs.

This approach convinced Steve Wozniak to make the move and, as they say, the rest is history.  This is an important lesson for sales people, sales managers and for anyone who needs to persuade others to make a change. We all have our own reasons for doing what we do. Taking the time to talk to people about themselves to gain an understanding of their individual needs and desires is the secret to motivating others.

Benefits are very personal things. What you see as a benefit may be meaningless to me. Any good tailor knows that to make comfortable, well-fitting clothing requires taking careful measurements. A good salesperson will use questions to take their customer’s measure before offering a benefit. A good salesperson knows that benefits are not “one-size-fits-all”!


What can I do if our school board members won’t answer questions?

Question:  We have a problem with access to school board members.  By policy, they don’t talk with the press.  They refer all interview requests to the superintendent’s office.  During board meetings, they have set aside a time for public comment, but they don’t allow questions even then.  You can say whatever you want, but you can’t query the board.  They do not violate the Texas Public Information law in their meetings, but there’s no opportunity to find out what they are thinking about the votes they are taking.  How can we get them to take questions from us or give us some interview time?

Answer:This is an interesting situation without an easy answer.

First, let me say that it is typical of most boards and commissions not to respond during public comment periods. The public is generally given a specific time to voice concerns, and most officials do not respond, or get into a debate, during this period. Typically the board president or leader will thank the speaker and sometimes they will indicate they are referring it to a staff member for consideration. So I wouldn't worry about that too much.

But having elected officials who refuse to comment on any public issue, and who refer those questions to someone who works for them, is very odd. As a journalist, you can't make them talk to you, but you can make it obvious to the general public that the board is refusing to discuss important issues. Is there a particular issue right now that you are writing about? I'd suggest you do an entire story on the fact that the elected officials refuse to discuss matters of interest to the community. You might also submit an open records request for any emails exchanged among the board and the staff on that topic. That would be one way to get their attention.

Are there any teacher groups or citizen groups that are complaining about the lack of communication from the board? Those would be important voices to include in the story, and would drive home for readers that this is not about a journalist getting his feelings hurt but a failure to communicate about matters of importance to the general public.

I would also recommend that every time you have a story, you should seek out comments and include a line in the story that the individual board members would not comment.

Good luck.

Online advertising

I’m finding it harder and harder to continue to feel like I am growing in my selling for my paper. I’m stuck. Do you have any tips or ideas that might help me?

Question:  In today’s tough economic environment, I'm finding it harder and harder to continue to feel like I am growing in my selling for my paper. I'm stuck. I recognize the importance of developing a strong skill set and fostering a positive can do attitude. But some days it's more like drudgery. Do you have any tips or ideas that might help me? Thank you.

Thanks for your question. As you go forward, consider the process of growth to be an adventure, a journey or an opportunity to learn and practice different techniques and strategies As you begin, let yourself enjoy the journey, have some FUN, allow yourself to stumble now and again, but, most of all, stick with it … the longer the better and the better you’ll get!

Here are some guideposts to help you along the way…

Relax. Challenge yourself and strive to be the best of the best, but recognize that anxiety is common and is brought on by fear of failure. Overcome this fear by taking action, moving forward a step at a time and remembering — when you are uncomfortable, you are growing!

Be Patient with Yourself. Don’t be too critical and don’t give up if your first efforts did not achieve what you had hoped for. Judge your skill acquisition in terms of its continuing improvement, looking for progress not perfection. Michelangelo, when asked about the source of his genius, replied, "Genius is patience."

One Step at a Time. Learn one new skill rather than tackling everything at once. It’s not how many steps.  It’s the direction you are headed that counts most. Tackle smaller revenue accounts first, then as you gain experience and confidence (which comes through doing), broaden your account development moving to regional, majors or larger revenue accounts. It’s better to approach smaller accounts and succeed, and be encouraged to continue, than to approach larger accounts, fail and be discouraged and tempted not to continue.

Start With Questions. It's ALL about questions. Don't tell to sell.  Ask potential accounts questions about themselves, their business, their customers, their goals. Questions help people open up, they demand answers – and they put YOU in control … in addition to giving you valuable information.

Remember: Nothing I say today will teach me anything; if I am going to learn

Something today I need to listen!

NO’s!  Understand them and use them to your advantage. When a potential account tells you no, be sure you understand, through questioning, what prompted the no. As for you, guard your time, today and tomorrow, by giving yourself permission to tell yourself and other no, so your valuable time is not carelessly given away.

Accept Your Mistakes. When things do not go the way you had hoped or planned, pause for a moment and ask yourself these two questions: “What did I do right?” and “If all things were the same, what would I do differently the next time?” To incorporate your mistakes and to learn from them, simply go back to the point where you first slipped up and start again. Focus on designing the future, not redesigning on the past.

Use The Correct Tools. Whether it’s your newspaper, showing and investigating your newspaper web site with one of your advertisers, reviewing or updating some key information about your market or community (its growth, new employers, soon-to-arrive major retailers), clarifying your newspaper’s audience changes (both online and in print) or special section opportunities, use them and use them correctly to enhance and maximize your selling efforts and success.                    

Don’t rely only on your tools at hand. Invest in yourself with different experiences, looking for the teaching moment (asking questions), in continuing education and volunteer opportunities outside of your newspaper. Practice your newly acquired skills with friends and acquaintances, so they will become natural to you day in and day out.

Lighten Up.  Fear of failure may cause you to subconsciously push too hard, to “white knuckle” sell. Anticipate minor setbacks, have FUN and laugh at yourself. You can do it! You know you can! Be patient …  Good luck? It’s simply where preparation meets opportunity!

Don’t Overlook the Obvious.  Don’t go too far away from your existing accounts in search of the next new bigger account over the horizon. You may just lose your perception of that existing account and not realize that had you asked they would have happily said yes to larger and larger ad dollar expenditure with your newspaper.

Step Back.  Much like an artist, develop your depth perception and judgment. In other words, the longer your view, the smaller things become. Teach yourself to regularly and frequently to step back and look at the big picture, your overall account list or sales territory rather than always intently focusing on each and every account. Where are you going? What are you trying to achieve? What are you attempting to manage?  Asking yourself similar questions and pausing to take an overview will ensure that you do not stray very far before you realize you’re making a mistake or focusing on the wrong accounts or the wrong areas of opportunity.

Don’t forget, like some of the best symphonies, some of the best newspaper careers are unfinished! Enhancing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses are a challenge. It is also hard work. But the rewards are usually hard- earned and well-deserved.

If you expect the best, you’ll get the best! Have fun … and good luck!


AP offers free trial of service for weeklies

I have good news for weekly newspapers looking for affordable, up-to-the-minute content for their websites or print editions.

For the first time, The Associated Press is offering a real-time news package for weeklies called AP News Choice. 

The subscription service gives weekly papers real-time access to AP’s state staff reports including sports and statehouse coverage; top breaking national/international news including politics; or topic-based reports ranging from agriculture to energy, education to religion. The online content is licensed to be displayed not only on a paper’s main website, but also on its mobile sites and apps. 

This service enables weeklies to keep their print and online editions fresh with news that enhances their already strong local franchises, tailored to the needs of their readers and advertisers. The state content includes all reports filed by AP’s correspondents in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Lubbock and the Rio Grande Valley. The first AP News Choice subscriber in Texas signed up primarily for access to AP’s award-winning coverage of border issues and the drug war

Rates for the print option are based on circulation; rates for the online option are based on web traffic. 

We’re offering free 15-day trials of the service to any weeklies that are interested. All they have to do is email me at [email protected] or call 972-677-2270.