Ask an Expert Questions and Answers

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:

By Chuck Nau

Chuck Nau, of Murray & Nau, Inc., is a publishing consultant with more than 25 years of experience, having served the Seattle Times, Knight-Ridder Newspapers and the Chicago Tribune in a number of management, marketing, media and sales capacities.

Nau’s work as a publishing consultant includes clients who are newspapers, publishing associations and niche publications. His practice enables him to put his wide range of publishing experience to work for publishers, sales management teams and senior managers on both a day to day and special project basis. He has assisted clients as a management consultant, sales trainer, facilitator and coach/mentor in advertising, circulation and marketing areas.

In addition to his consulting practice, Nau has spoken to and conducted workshops for a number of national publishing groups, state press associations, and newspaper organizations throughout North America. He has written a series of columns covering topics in advertising, management, marketing, and sales which have appeared in various newspaper industry and press association publications.