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Customers are pulling ads in the newspaper to advertise on digital billboards. How can we “fire back”?

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.

The questions

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.

About billboards

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:

Online advertising

Changes in the online advertising market that you need to understand

Chuck Nau, of Murray & Nau Inc., discusses changes in the online advertising market — in radio, local television and direct mail — and how they’re changing the advertising game for community newspapers during the Keys to Growing Online Advertising Revenue workshop at Texas Christian University on October 29, 2009.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Are spec ads more trouble than they’re worth?

Successful (and experienced) newspaper ad salespeople know and will tell you that spec ads can be very powerful, and once in place, they help the selling process proceed to a close, resulting in an ad in your newspaper.

Don’t think that spec ads are for new advertisers only. Rethink your spec ad selling strategy and consider incorporating their use with your best customers and with some new, strategic ad alliances you want to pursue (. . . clean your car inside and out — a joint car wash retailer/oil change retailer promotion . . . weather outside is frightful, the fire inside is delightful — a joint video rental retailer/pizza delivery promotion).

Why create and use spec ads, both for print and online? Very simply, spec ads allow you and your newspaper to strategize, show, save and succeed with your new and existing advertisers.

Strategize: Spec ads help to open the door and begin the idea and need exchange, not only with new advertisers, but also with your existing customers. Presenting a spec ad helps you help your advertiser visualize a new sales or marketing strategy, and encourages those advertisers to take that first step in a business partnership with you and your newspaper.

Show: Spec ads give you and your newspaper the opportunity to teach someone how to buy advertising, through a well thought out ad and ad campaign which showcases you and your newspaper’s marketing expertise and strength as a creative selling medium, both in print and online.

Save: Spec ads will save your advertiser time and money. Time is saved which was previously spent wondering (discussing?) “what to run” … “when to run it” … “how much to price”. . . “what to say”. . . “how to say it”. . . “what will it look like”! You and your newspaper will also save time and money because of fewer rough ad drafts, proofs, production time, deadline impacts, and error adjustments.

Success: Spec ads will help foster the outcome you and your advertiser envision. For your advertiser, that may be more sales, more revenue, more profit, or overall market share growth. For you and your newspaper, it may also mean more income for you, more revenue for your paper, more profit, and enlarging customer base or overall market share

Idea generation for spec ads is easily accomplished if you remember where and how to look for ideas. Where? First and foremost, at your potential or existing advertiser’s place of business. Does an existing business card give you an idea of how to develop an ad that matches the image this retailer wishes to convey? Does the same business card provide easily accessible and usable art work, logo and/or address/phone information for spec ad development? Are existing ads or past ads (from other media — chamber book, yellow pages, direct mail, other newspapers) available to incorporate into your spec ads? Are there other printed materials available — restaurant menus, catalogs, flyers?

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

It feels like I’m all over the place, do you have any suggestions on how to manage my sales territory?

Managing your sales territory to generate additional revenue for you and your paper is not a case of working harder, but working smarter. Here are seven suggestions to get you headed in the right direction:

  • ‘What is it you are trying to manage?’ Do you want to increase ad revenue, account count, development of a particular geographic area, ad count, or more use of a particular newspaper product?
  • Optimize your selling opportunities for success by structuring your day to assure less in office, production time and more out-of-office, face-to-face selling time.
  • Practice Time Management. Plan, plan, plan. Learn to prioritize. Stop procrastinating and wasting time (identify your time wasters). Know yourself and understand the value of time (both that of your client’s and your own). Say no!
  • Delegate and use all available resources. Everyone at your newspaper (circulation, production, newsroom) is part of your sales and marketing team, from top to bottom. Remember, no one can do it all.
  • Organize your information. Ideally, you have or will develop a pitchbook (it may be as easy and simple as a ring binder) to keep all appropriate sales information at your finger tips and presentation ready.
  • Assess your accounts specifically and realistically. What degree of potential $$ exists with each account? What problems may be evident, what may change, what’s the future? Review, too, the urgency or priority of each account. Who may be at risk from competitive challenges, both from other retailers or other media?
  • Reward yourself by taking care of yourself. Ensure both your professional and personal growth. Take time for you. Maintain a positive attitude, don’t dwell on past failures and rejections – use them to build on future successes. Think of a new way to handle an old problem. Keep growing. Learn from others. Have fun!!

As you grow and develop and your territory or account list changes and evolves, remember to learn and work on inventing the future rather than trying to redesign the past. Good luck!

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

I’m not very good at cold calling. Do you have any suggestions?

I can easily understand where you are coming from, having been there early in my career. Don’t give up yet! It’s easy (and fun!) to make cold calls, if you warm them up beforehand. How do you do that? By visiting your potential advertiser before making the initial sales contact and by being prepared.

The “recon mission” strategy can warm up those cold calls, enabling you to be better prepared, and ultimately more successful. On your recon mission your objective is not to make initial contact or get acquainted, your objective is to gather information, to learn more about, and further qualify your potential advertiser.

The recon mission takes place at your potential advertiser’s place of business. Visit your potential advertiser, look around and walk around, asking yourself these questions: What image is this retailer conveying? What’s the store’s appearance, inside and out? Who are the clientele? What’s the customer service like? What is the depth, variety and look of the merchandise? Is the store signage welcoming, are promotions prominently displayed and recent are advertising efforts or campaigns displayed?

As you gather your information, a picture of your potential advertiser should begin to form. During your recon mission, did you pick up some new ideas or competitive information that will help you with your other clients? Have you begun formulating what benefits your newspaper offers that will match the needs or goals of this potential advertiser?

Your answers to all of the aforementioned questions will help you plan your strategy and better prepare you for your initial meeting with your potential advertiser’s decision maker, owner or manager. Your first meeting, your cold call (and your likelihood for success) is warmer because you have some information, you know a little about what your potential advertiser wants to achieve and you have had the opportunity to at least think through some possible matches between your newspaper’s benefits and your potential advertiser’s goals. You are confident about what you will achieve during this initial meeting. Be careful; don’t be too confident, we’re not selling yet. We are still gathering information.

In preparation for your cold call, ask yourself what your objective is and what questions you are going to ask, not what you are going to tell or sell.

As you walk into your potential advertiser’s place of business ask to speak to the owner or manager. Once that person (or the key decision maker) is identified, address them by name, and introduce yourself, your newspaper, and your intentions (Good Morning, Katie. My name is ____, with ______; do you have a moment to talk about newspaper advertising?). If your prospect says no, ask when a convenient time would be (tomorrow? 2:30?), and set up a subsequent appointment before you leave. Give your potential advertiser a copy of your paper and a business card.

As your potential advertiser mentions a need (we want to reach homeowners), match it with a benefit your newspaper offers (71 percent of our readers are college-educated homeowners). Ask questions. Gather information. Remember to keep this first meeting short. Tell your potential advertiser you would like to set up a subsequent appointment to gather more information or to come back with some ideas, suggestions and recommendations (and proof) showing how your newspaper will meet his or her needs or goals, and basically be a resource to him or her.

Remember, you are building a relationship. The more information about your potential advertiser that you assemble the easier it will be to match needs and benefits. YOU are in charge of building the relationship.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

When retailers in my community ask me how much to invest in advertising, what considerations should I be taking into account?

Thanks for your question. Most retailers set their investment in advertising dollars based on a percentage of sales. The accepted advertising industry norm is 3 percent to 5 percent of monthly sales as a monthly ad budget. However, the amount of dollars a retailer invests in advertising also can depend on a number of factors:

  • Business Location. High traffic area? Low traffic area? The lower the traffic, the more rural or out of main street flow, the larger dollar investment in advertising required.
  • Top-of-Mind Awareness. A new business as opposed to an established business with awareness, familiarity and trust will need a larger dollar investment in advertising.
  • Competitive Market. Businesses in a market with a number of competitors will need a larger dollar investment in advertising as opposed to the one-of-a-kind business in a market.
  • Price vs. Value. A business that guarantees lowest price or features continual sale efforts will need a larger dollar investment in advertising to continually reinforce this message.

Remember, when a business advertises price, or the business is only selling price, the business will have to continue to lower the price, or come up with enhanced incentives on an ongoing basis in order to continue building their customer base.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Do newspapers’ competitors use newspapers to build their own brands and doesn’t that reinforce the value of newspapers?

Absolutely! In this tough economic environment and to coincide with the signing of the federal stimulus package in late February, ValPak, the blue envelope coupon direct mailer, chose newspapers in 30 of their franchise markets to launch a national campaign promoting its ValPak brand and product as “The Original Consumer Stimulus Package.”

Last year Valpak changed its marketing strategy and in 2009 opted to target beleaguered business owners. What’s the media ValPak chose to reach beleaguered business owners in 30 U.S. markets? Newspapers!

Newspaper advertising works best — ask ValPak!!

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

Can my print ads actually get people to go online and check out a product or service?

Print newspaper ads drive online traffic and purchases. How do we know? Google told us!

That’s right. In a research study commissioned by Google and conducted by Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo in October 2007 and released in April 2008, among individuals who research products and services after seeing them advertised in newspapers, 67 percent use the Internet to find more info, and almost 70 percent of them actually make a purchase following their additional research.

The Google-commissioned research study also found that among newspaper readers who use the Internet …

  • 56 percent researched or purchased at least one product they saw advertised in the newspaper in the previous month.
  • 44 percent of newspapers readers who use the Internet researched at least one product. 48 percent of them visited a store. 23percent called a store and 23 percent asked a friend. 42 percent of respondents purchased at least one product.

Newspapers, Your newspaper … is still the one!

Why? Simply put, newspapers, whether in print or online, have a distinct local audience who trust them. Newspapers, your newspaper, influence and motivate readers to search, learn about, find and purchase goods and services.

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Business in my community is really bad. I know businesses should advertise, but I can’t persuade them and should they agree to continue their advertising, I am not sure what we should advertise.

First and foremost, you should never agree with anyone in your community that business is bad. Likewise, you should never say “business is bad.” Anywhere in Texas, or for that matter in the U.S. “Business is not Bad!” “Business is tough to get!!”

Your advertisers, both current, new and old, are asking or going to be asking the question … why advertise? Why advertise in a possible recessionary period or when business is tough to get?

Simply put …those retailers, service providers, professional businesses and companies that maintain or increase their advertising spending during a difficult or challenging economic environment do, indeed, get ahead.

For those local retailers, service providers, professional businesses or companies who take an assertive, yet well-thought-out, consistent and ongoing advertising program, opportunities do exist to increase sales and profits, which in turn leads to an increase in market share.

Whereas, a reduction in advertising expenditures guarantees reduced profits, sales and lost market share due, in part, to three significant impacts … loss of top-of-mind awareness, loss of image in the marketplace and your community and a change in attitudes and perceptions held about the retailer, service provider, professional business or company.

To be successful, to grow and to survive, a retailer, a service provider, a professional business or company needs to have a constant presence in their community. This presence comes through a community awareness of that business and ‘who they are’ and ‘what they do’. This awareness and presence takes place through a consistent and ongoing advertising program.

What strategy might you suggest to assist your client in seizing the opportunity presented by a economic downturn? Consider the following:

  • Stress benefits. Talk value. Your readers and advertisers and their customers are looking for reassurances. Reiterate to your advertisers the importance of reducing (buying) risk by stressing benefits and values, rather than just price, in their advertising message.
  • Capitalize on local awareness and familiarity. Leverage the awareness and familiarity that your local retailers, service providers, professional businesses and companies have built through past ad campaigns to reduce (buying) reluctance while reinforcing the advantages of safety and security in shopping locally. The best advice and the best value … always come from someone you know!
  • Maximize competitive advantages. Help your advertisers seize the moment when their competitors may be cutting back or eliminating their advertising, by identifying and articulating what separates and makes them unique or different from others.
  • It’s all about long term. Coach your advertisers to plan and prepae for growth when the economic uncertainty ends. Don’t seek to reinvent the past or worry about the present, look to and design the future!
  • Don’t sell an ad. Sell an idea, a campaign. Talk to advertisers about investing in a series of ads … rather than placing one time, single shot ads or promotions.
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

A small retailer, a pizza shop, in my community wants to run a coupon to test if my newspaper works. What should I do?

Coupons should not be used by a retailer or potential advertiser to count response in a particular media vehicle (… direct mail, Internet, magazine, newspaper). If a retailer or potential advertiser wishes to count or track response to a particular advertisement or a series of ads, the retailer should monitor a variable (total number of transactions, sales totals for all inventory, sales totals for advertised item(s) or revenue) over a given time period.

As you mentioned, many variables may affect the response to a retailer’s coupon offer — price, merchandise, percent of discount offered, coupon face value, store inventory, media used, weather, competitive offerings and location of the coupon within the media (… location on the page, page location within the vehicle, coupon location among other coupons within the vehicle). Additionally, market characteristics or demos may preclude high coupon redemption plus the age-old adage … “I forgot it!”

Coupons … Don’t Count!

Coupons are a promotional tool. When a retailer or potential advertiser considers using a coupon, he is reducing his profitability on that particular product or service. Non – coupon ads that include a simple, easily recognizable layout, with a dominant element (illustration/artwork) or theme, and an attention-grabbing benefit headline may generate a more loyal and profitable customer!

Last but not least, whether your potential advertiser is planning to use a coupon or not, a successful selling strategy for you, your newspaper, and your (potential) advertiser to always utilize is selling an advertising campaign as opposed to a single ad or single ad insertion. An ad campaign selling strategy affords your advertiser, your newspaper, and you a number of benefits. Major benefits include, but are not limited to, frequency which builds awareness to your advertiser (‘who they are and what they do’), time and advertising investment costs savings and creating, if not enhancing, results.