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.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

A local agency recently held a closed-door meeting with a businessman who is trying to buy a piece of property. Can they do that?

The Texas Attorney General’s office has held that outside members of the public are not allowed to attend executive sessions.

The Texas Attorney General’s office, moreover, notes on its Web site in discussing the state open meetings law, specifically, that “a governmental body … should not allow someone to attend an executive session regarding a proposed real estate transaction if this person is bargaining with the local unit for the purchase or sale of the real property.”

A governmental body is allowed to discuss in executive session a real estate transaction, or to discuss that item with its own attorney, but the Attorney General has held that outside parties (other than certain officials or personnel, such as a city manager or school superintendent) are not authorized to attend an executive session.

For more information, visit the Texas Attorney General’s Web site.

You can click on the open government section and find a number of resources, including copies of the Texas Open Meetings and Open Records Laws, and easy guides to those laws. You can also print off copies of specific attorney general opinions to give to local government officials, if they doubt your word.

Here are some direct links

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Reporting

Our reporters have difficulty getting public officials to return phone calls about controversial issues. How can we prod those officials into being more responsive?

For starters, make the officials accountable for not talking to the newspaper. If the county commissioner’s role is part of a larger story, report that he or she would not return phone calls or would not discuss the issue, make sure to place that fact where readers would otherwise expect the official’s response to be. Placing it at the end of the story only trivializes the official’s failure to act responsibly.

And, remember that sometimes, that official’s failure to respond might change the complexion of your story to the extent that that failure now becomes the news peg.

And if a pattern emerges, you’ve got a great opportunity to use the opinion page as leverage. But make sure it’s clear that the official’s failure to respond isn’t a sore point with your newspaper — that sounds like whining — but is a failure to meet his or her responsibility to the general public. Make sure you’re readers know that it’s them, and not you, getting the short end of the stick.

In the meantime, here’s what your reporters can do to strengthen their own case with the official and readers, in case you do have to play hardball.

  • Make sure they’ve done their research before they start asking questions. They ought to be just about as knowledgable on the subject as the official.
  • Make sure they call as far in advance as possible
  • And make sure they make numerous good faith efforts.
  • And, if it’s a last-minute or breaking story, and it’s reasonable that an official might not have time to reply before your deadline, soften the blow, you might write that “the mayor couldn’t be reached at press time” rather than “the mayor did not return phone calls.” Both may be accurate, but only one will fairly depict the context of the situation.
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

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

My headlines just don’t work. What can I do?

The most frequent problem brought to me by news editors at design workshops is how to manage the headlines on their front page.

Editors often comment, “Headlines just don’t work on my 1A.” A few will admit, “I even tried using four different headline fonts on my pages and stories still didn’t pop out.”

I understand their frustration. The situation is especially trying when editors are not only trying to make the page look good but also create a more comfortable experience for their readers.

Working with type is challenging for folks who have no formal training in design or little time to find out what works by trial and error. I compensate for those gaps by suggesting three guidelines for working with type.

Simplicity and Contrast

The more headline fonts on a page, the more confusion for the reader.

There should be one font for headlines on the page.

That font should have a personality that reflects your news philosophy and a bold, regular and italic version. Use that contrasting weight and posture to guide the reader.

The bold version is used for news stories that require prominence and impact, the lighter version for other stories. The italic and lighter versions can be used for feature stories. Those versions can also be used for “decks”, the longer, smaller headlines you strip under a story’s main head.

Most software programs include a package of fonts that use selections in a style menu (the “B” and “i” buttons”) to mechanically convert the font to bold and italic. That is satisfactory for most news editors.

But, if you are more selective, you can purchase a font that contains the true bold and italic fonts. These fonts are more distinctive and might even have an extra-bold and light version of the headline font.

A single headline font unifies the page.

Contrast guides the reader.

Hierarchy and Contrast

The more headlines of similar weight and size that appear on a page, the more confusion for the reader.

Editors should establish a hierarchy as to what type of stories appear in certain positions on the front page and establish a schedule as to the headline size and weight those positions will display.


The most important story of the day goes into position one or position two in the top half of the page and will always have a bold headline that ranges from 60 – 80 points. It can also carry a deck head below it in regular weight that is 30 point. The second most important story goes into position three or four in the middle of the page and has a regular headline that ranges from 42 – 48 points and can have a deck head below it that is 24 point.

As you move down page, the headlines get lighter and smaller.

As you move down page, the content of the stories gets lighter and has less impact.

The editor is grading the stories for the reader.

The theory is that the reader will scan the page and gather a sense of what is more important by the weight and size of the headline. The eye reads in clusters and recognizes the proximity of type, photos and text as an individual package.

The more contrast and space between these packages, the more distinct each becomes.

Hierarchy grades the importance of stories on the page.

Contrast guides the reader.

Discipline and Contrast

Once an editor has hierarchy established, she has to stick to it. A headline schedule of position, weight and size is useless if it is compromised every other edition.

The challenge for the headline writer is to write the headline to fit the schedule, not fit the headline into the layout.
Quality headline writing is a combination of science and art.

There is a certain number and combination of characters that fit into a two-column, two-line, 48-point bold headline. That is the science.

Crafting a 48-point headline that attracts the reader, tells the story and fits within that two-column width is the art.

I’ve had editors tell me that their headline schedule doesn’t work. As we dig into the reasons, it is often because headlines are written first and someone is changing its weight and size so it fits into the space, regardless of what the headline schedule indicates.

Soon, 60-point bold headlines are scaled down to 48 regular heads and 36-point heads are boosted to 42. Elsewhere, 48-point heads are reduced to 42 and 24-point heads enlarged to 30. Repeat that a few more times and the headline schedule that ranged from 18 point to 72 suddenly has a range from 30 point to 48. There is not much difference in the size or impact of those headlines. There is not much contrast.

I’ll be the first one to agree: It is very, very hard to write headlines to fit. But the Thesaurus is a valuable ally in making the job less stressful.

Having the discipline to follow the headline schedule will not only produce a better page but also make one a better headline writer with a greater variety of words to employ and an understanding of the power in their placement.

Discipline establishes form and confidence.

Contrast guides the reader.

Following these guidelines will not only help an editor feel like her typography is more successful but also give the page structure and organization.

I believe you have to guide the reader through your pages every day and can never train the reader to think the way an editor thinks. However, one can establish a routine through which the reader finds certain types of stories in certain positions and develops a comfort factor with your pages.

And, hopefully, that comfort will bring the reader back to your pages on a regular (read here: home subscription!) basis.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Newswriting

Civic organization meetings are a staple of our newspaper, and they’re obviously interesting to the members of those organizations. But how can we make them more interesting to a wider range of readers?

The first rule of thumb is, don’t fall into the trap of writing the story in the same chronological order as items or issues appear on the agenda. If the organization always meets on the same date, it’s not relevant merely that they met, so the fact they “met” probably ought not to even be in the story. Nor should the fact that they “discussed” some issue. They always do discuss issues; that’s why they meet.

Your wider range of readers will probably want to know is what they thought about the issue or what decisions the members reached on an issue. And that ought to be in the first, or lead, paragraph. And the reporter must look objectively at the agenda or follow the meeting closely to best determine which issue, if there are several, is most important.

Most boards, whether they’re civic or governmental, see to list the most important or controversial items at the bottom of their agendas, which obviously means they’re the last to be discussed. Who knows why, but sometimes it seems it’s so casual attendees will have left the building before the hot stuff comes up, or maybe they think it signals that the issue isn’t so controversial if they’re not burning to address it before the pledge out of the way. But it also means that reporters who aren’t objectively covering the meeting can slip into writing chronologically. That means the meat of the story is buried, and it can guarantee that the story’s headline doesn’t draw attention to the controversial issue.

On the other hand, you want to attract readers, so make sure that main or controversial issue is the main focus in the lead and that there’s a headline drawn from that lead, when readers get to the story.

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.