How to put together an ad sales pitch book

In this struggling economy, what strategies might you consider to enhance your likelihood for successful face-to-face meetings with advertisers? What should you bring along in addition to a copy of your newspaper and your newspaper’s website stats? Where would you turn? How would you gather the necessary information? Whom should you ask? What is available, both easily accessible and inexpensive?

Many of us have asked ourselves these questions during our selling and sales management careers. In my case, it was during my tenure at a small northern Illinois daily just after college. For you it might be the daily r, weekly where you work.  No matter what the circulation size or frequency of your newspaper, having an out-of-date, inadequate, or nonexistent pitch book can be both frustrating and discouraging to your sales efforts.

What’s a pitch book? 

 It is all the necessary information you need to help potential advertisers visualize why they should invest ad dollars (… new and additional revenue!) in your newspaper or website.

A pitch book is not a rate card.  It is more than that!  A pitch book ideally is a binder that contains information on your market, your newspaper, your competition, plus additional data you need to tell and sell your newspaper's story.

Developing a pitch book, even the most fundamental one, does not have to be a formidable, time consuming or expensive task.  It is possible even if you are at a newspaper that has limited research resources, both human and financial.

Let's consider for a moment building your own bare bones pitch book.  It may be bare bones initially, but as you use it, adding to and subtracting from, it will become a well-used and trusted ally in your progress toward sales success.

How, you ask, will you be able to develop a pitch book with limited or no research resources?  It's easy, and it can be fun.  It will teach you more about your market, your newspaper, and your competition.

First, you will need to refocus those selling skills and do a little bit of investigative work. Ask lots of questions.

But what are we going to investigate?  Available, and in some cases free, resources to develop more facts, data, and information about your market, your newspaper, and your competition in order to create, build, and refine your pitch book.

What resources?  Where?  Right there, in front of you.  Consider the following everyday sources of information:

For Market Information — The first, and possibly the best, resource may be your own newspaper.  Don't overlook any departments or personnel (advertising, editorial,circulation, newsroom, and senior management). Begin a reference file featuring photocopies of news stories about your market (its growth, changes, population, schools, new retailers/employers, demographics). Don't forget to tag each story with the newspaper's name and date of story. In addition, keep an eye out for feature stories about your market in other area newspapers, regional business journals, and even your competition!

Another resource is Realtors, both commercial and residential; Banks; Savings & Loans; Credit Unions — all of these businesses track their customer base and how it relates to your market and their business. Ask them if they will share the information with you, volunteer to share your information, and give appropriate credit for the information. New housing starts, average home price, new payroll dollars, growth in retail sales, available/spend able income dollars are all important to your potential advertisers and help sell your market, and your paper.

Also, local college/university/branch campus, libraries, and government sources, both national (Small Business Administration) and local (Chamber of Commerce, Grange, County Economic Development Council) — these are great sources for economic (Censusstatistics, population, age, income, educational information) and historical (your local town origin, county origin, reasons behind largest town social/economic event) data.  All of this information helps you paint the picture about your market and the people your newspaper serves.

Do not overlook checking and reviewing any and all of your local market’s websites, including your newspaper’s, your competitor’s (radio, television, yellow pages, direct mail, billboards) and other print niche publications.

For Newspaper Information— As with your search for market information, your first resources may be your newspaper and your newspaper’s website. Talk to everyone within your newspaper organization and search out any information regarding your newspaper's history, goals and mission, readership, unique visitors, and circulation. Strategically plan how you will use this information to tell your story to your potential advertisers. Begin writing your story, by using individual facts and data, demonstrating how your newspaper and your newspaper’s web site will bring your audience (the buyers) and your advertiser (the seller) together.

If your newspaper sources are limited and incomplete, reach out and ask your state press association for assistance. They are a wealth of information, perhaps not as much on your market, but on the state overall and the newspaper industry in particular.  Your state press association will have lots of resources available.  Whether it's current circulation trends, average readers per copy, who is reading newspapers, who visits newspaper websites, how well newspapers and their websites work or the emerging technology questions regarding the Internet — your newspaper association can help you.

In addition to your local press association, the Newspaper Association of America  and the National Newspaper Associationare repositories for the newspaper industry and related areas (couponing, retail sales trends, population shifts, newspaper readership, and new technologies). In Texas, the Centeris an easily accessible resource for you. Last but not least, network with other newspapers in your region or state to discuss what's new, what's available, what's working.

For Competitive Information— just ask.  To learn about your competition and what they are doing in your market, ask those advertisers, both existing and new, if they would share their competitive strategy (and information) with you. Call your competition, ask some questions, and request a rate card or media kit. You do not have to identify yourself, and if you are not asked you do not need to tell them who you are or why you are calling. Then again, if your competitor asks, and you identify yourself, what is the worst they can say?  No.

To learn about a particular medium (cable, radio, direct mail) call an out-of-market competitor, who will probably give you specific information on their station or mailing and broad based information on the media, radio or direct mail, which you can use.

Keep looking for new resources.  Keep updating your pitch book.  It's your pitch book.  Make it work for you.  It will help you become the resource your advertisers turn to first when they need information and, in the process, build your confidence and belief in yourself, newspapers, your newspaper and its website.

Have fun and good luck!

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.