10 ways that ad sales people can save newspapers

The biggest problem for newspapers is not falling readerships, it is falling advertising revenue. It is the move from local monopolies to a global platform where competition is everywhere, and advertising less lucrative.

For all the talk of how journalists can get a grip on new media, there’s been far too little on how ad sales people can do the same. So here I present ten ways ad sales people (and their managers) can save their jobs.

1. Stop treating web ads as second class

The first and most important change is a structural one. While management enthuse about a digital future, the bottom line for most ad sales people is this: incentives are based around print ads; web ads are typically sold as add-ons, and much cheaper ones at that. When it comes to earning your wage and your bonus, web ads are simply not the priority.

If newspapers are serious about a multiplatform future, they need to look at ways to change incentive structures to better reward web ad sales.

And part of this means making web ads more lucrative – because why would you put all your effort into selling a £50 banner ad when you could be selling a £500 half page ad?

2. Stop selling adverts on static pages

Most advertising on news websites still tends to take the shape of banners, sold against particular sections. This is the ad equivalent of shovelware or brochureware.

But the web is not a brochure: it is dynamic, constantly updated, and flexible. So why not drop the print mindset, and start selling against some of the following:

  • how about a slot against the ‘most popular’ story of that minute (if it helps, think of it as the equivalent as the front page ad), second most popular, and so on (you could even auction these slots in the same way as Google does with AdWords).
  • How about a slot next to breaking news? (Obviously you would put provisions into place to prevent embarrassing juxtapositions).
  • Or exclusives? (If they still exist)
  • Or personalised services such as SMS alerts on election results, school closings or local events (as the Cincinnati Enquirer’s James Jackson mentions)?

3. Sell advertising against search terms

While we’re stealing ideas from Google, here’s another one: instead of selling an ad on a particular page, sell advertising that will be targeted at people who search for particular things.

As soon as someone searches for a particular term, that advert is served up to them. Simple.

Then, why not turn the usual process on its head and sell the print ad as an add-on? Even when people spend money on search marketing, they often back it up with print ads, and the stats on user behaviour suggest they should do more:

“Two-thirds (67%) of search engine users are driven to search by an offline channel, and 39% of those offline-influenced search users ultimately make a purchase from the company that prompted their initial search. Moreover, it also shows television advertising to be the leading offline channel that drives users to search (37%).”

4. Give ad sales people access to the internet

Incredibly, many ad sales people are not allowed access to the internet at work. This amazes me. What happens when a client calls to ask about their online ad? Do they have to put them on hold while they find a computer? What happens when a client mentions a website they’d like to imitate? What happens when a client uses a web 2.0 buzzword that the ad sales person needs to quickly look up?

Most of all, what happens if an ad sales person is expected to sell online advertising, but has never used the internet and doesn’t understand its possibilities?

If this is your future direction, it helps if the place where most of your money comes from knows something about it…

Especially when they have access to online reports which say local newspaper websites are one of the most trusted places for advertising.

5. Enable the long tail of small businesses to advertise without you doing it for them

Online advertising means that small businesses who previously were not typical print or broadcast advertisers can now afford to advertise.

In other words, there is a potential long tail of small advertisers that could prove a significant source of new revenue.

Google’s own AdSense is one (particularly successful) example of this; Rick Waghorn‘s Addiply is another (built in response to his frustrations with AdSense).

Many newspaper websites carry AdSense adverts, but if a small operation like Waghorn’s can build a service to allow local businesses to buy and place their own advertising, why aren’t major publishers? Why give more money to Google? Why ask ad sales people to spend hours cold-calling for small web ads when you can cut out the middleman and focus your ad sales team on more creative work, like…

6. Think beyond the banner: get creative about online advertising

The web is not a one-way medium. We expect interactivity from a modern news website – comments, polls, bookmarking, chat – so why do we not extend this capability to the advertising? Here are some simple ideas:

If an ad sales person can pitch ideas like that to a client, they may be more successful. And they can charge more too.

Remembering that many businesses have websites too is key here – an advert can be sold twice: once on the news site, again as a piece of content on the client’s site.

As web readers become increasingly banner-blind, and CPMs/CPAs/etc. less reliable, standing out from the crowd becomes increasingly important.

7. Think about vouchers/coupons

This will not be new to readers in the US, where coupons are a big part of newspaper advertising. In the UK, however, what are better known as vouchers don’t seem to have the same importance in newspaper advertising, and I’m not sure why (if anyone can enlighten me, please do).

Vouchers online, however, are a power in themselves, with dozens of sites dedicated to simply passing on voucher codes. As a result, they can not only be a great way of driving business to advertisers, but also traffic through your site.

One publisher took this idea further at DeliveringQC.com (background in this report (PDF), p39), while the Tampa Bay Tribune took the idea mobile with XtraCoupons.mobi (background here):

“One of the biggest drivers of revenue for the [parent] mobile site has been the sales staff themselves. Media General made extra efforts to train ad sales reps to sell the mobile, including arming reps with demonstrations, PowerPoint presentations and other sales collateral.”

8. Sell advertising aimed at the non-local market

Your online audience is different to your print audience: typically only a third of local newspaper website users will be readers of the newspaper; another third will be local non-readers; and a further third will not be local.

That means you have a new market for ads, and therefore new clients you can pitch to.

The most obvious is to sell ads to local hotels, resorts and attractions for those people who read their old local paper and occasionally pop back for a break (most obvious places: sports pages; nostalgia features).

This also works the other way: with non-print readers you can create non-print products: take the old sponsored print supplement idea and do it online. Create a service. Build a platform. Do something with multimedia…

9. Sell video ads, as well as the production of video content

Video has enormous potential as a source of ad revenue – not just in terms of traditional ‘spots’ at the start of some video editorial, but as content in itself.

The drop in the cost of producing such video means that there is a new potential market for not only selling video ads, but selling the production of that video itself (and of course production of video generally). Small businesses who would otherwise not have considered video can now afford it.

Newspapers are starting to build experience in video. Production standards for web video are not expected to be as high as broadcast – a simple ‘video diary’ format can be filmed cheaply – and there’s the rub: on the web, production is incidental, but a good idea and good content is key, and newspapers could offer both.

The idea doesn’t stop at video: the NAA reports of TBO.com’s mobile operations:

“sales and online staffs are also selling services to help local businesses build their own mobile advertising and marketing campaigns. Using their experience and services in mobile, Media General is helping businesses build mobile microsites as well as offering text messaging services, which setting up and managing SMS campaigns. “That is proving to be where the major revenue is coming from,” [director of mobile Tim] Repsher says.”

10. Work in networks

We are in a networked era. A modern journalist should know how to team up with people outside their organisation, to connect with communities and readers…

Ad sales people should build the same skills.

On a basic organisational level this should obviously start with selling ads across titles, top-down – the most obvious being beer ads in football sections. That should be happening anyway. But it can equally work the other way – selling ads from one title across parts of the network, bottom-up.

Targeted advertising technologies make it possible to have ‘local’ advertising in newspapers 200 miles away from the client, if it’s relevant to the reader.

Then there’s looking outside your own organisation. A national newspaper executive recently told me they have an advertising and revenue share agreement with a number of blogs. Sounds like a sensible idea to me.

Bonus: don’t take digital growth for granted

Whisper it quietly: online ad sales by newspaper businesses are beginning to decline: “Upselling print advertisers is a losing business when those advertisers are fleeing print.”

Your ad sales staff may already be doing some of these things, or planning to – sing their praises here.

Person Rick Waghorn
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49 thoughts on “10 ways that ad sales people can save newspapers

  1. Craig McGinty

    Let me promote your advertisers on my websites through a proper affiliate scheme. Ditto for a newspaper’s own products.

    Affiliate sites often struggle with content, newspapers often struggle with online, look at ways to bring the two together and you might succeed.

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  3. Alex Yates

    Why not a website system where advertisers pay for customers seeking their services, like a reverse Priceline.com. Example, if I want a haircut I type in “hair salon” or “barber” and my zip code. This prompts an auto-feed to hair salon advertisers who get an email or txt msg. They can then respond to a Website page or my mobile where I see at one glance all of the offers, who is available now, what discounts if any they are offering, and how close they are to me. Then the advertisers pay per custimer that comes their way. Sales reps can help an advertiser if they are not getting any responses to the and help them tailor their replies. Advertisers are paying not for eyeballs, but for custoimers wanting to spend money, this is the most direct approach. Won’t this work well? Cheers from Chicago! Alex @ Inland Press Assn.

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  5. RickWaghorn

    Excellent post – nice to see someone actually thinking through the money question, ie how do we ever, ever earn a living out of this…

    The only change I’d make is to the headline… let’s see if we can save journalists/journalism first via digital ad sales and let someone else worry about saving newspapers…

    After that there’s 201 things that I could add on the back of our two years in this field… eg people buy off people. And that’s true today as its always been; particularly at local level. You have to foot soldier your way through the local ad market… shake hands, meet and greet…

    … and make it easy. Don’t sell per click, per thousand… Pay per month.

    For local advertisers who have known nothing but local newspaper advertising take them by the hand and gently lead them over the great divide… ie/eg you can pay £350 for a quarter page ad for one night; or you can pay £150 for a whole month on the website…

    Let it rotate; ie everyone gets the chance to be on the home page once in their ‘cycle’…

    Give them the numbers; let them see for themselves exactly what they’re getting for their money.. it’s why we give them their own client log-in page on our own, home-built ad-server system http://www.twadservices.co.uk

    The market is out there; the ‘locals’ know they need to be marketing their websites out on the web… they just haven’t worked out how yet…

    There again, neither have we…

  6. paulbradshaw

    Thanks Rick – I said ‘save newspapers’ in the headline rather than ‘save journalism’ because I rather cynically assumed ad sales people were more bothered about their jobs than journalism. Perhaps an ad sales person can put me right?

  7. Northumbria

    Some great suggestions. Do we know of any publisher that has adopted this approach? An eleventh suggestion would be to structure sales people’s incentive towards digital rather than print!

  8. paulbradshaw

    I know of a number of publishers that have adopted one or some. Johnston have expressed a vague intention to build a service to allow advertisers to place their own ads (reported in the latest print Press Gazette – no link, sorry), and I’ve seen a video of a local plumber explaining about leaks somewhere, but can’t remember where. Otherwise I’ve linked to examples – any more very much welcomed.

  9. Alexandre Gamela

    A great example for cheap ads controlled by users is the Village Soup .
    They offer space for user generated daily ads for a real low price. You have the diner’s day specials, store promotions for that given day etc.

    The problem is that people still think about selling that one page big ad instead of dozens of small ones, because they are not thinking webwise, where all the ads can rotate, and be associated to specific content, or keywords. And part of the work of ad people is to teach (after they’ve learned) the businesses how to advertise online, because many still don’t understand it.

    This is a great post, congratulations Paul.

  10. Mark Nagurski

    I’m intrigued by No. 9 – do you think this could be expanded into sponsored content? i.e. the plumber works with the paper to create a video ‘how to’ segment.

    At present if the plumber pays nothing it’s just good PR on his part and the paper is drafting in expert opinion to create good content. All well and good.

    But what happens if the paper chooses to sell that spot (almost like an infomercial but without any obvious sales pitch)? How would that equation change if the plumber approached the paper and wanted to place an informative video ad on their site?

    There’s clearly a line somewhere between sponsoring content and buying editorial – but the web creates the opportunity for unlimited content and some smart businesses are going to start pushing hard along the advertorial lines.

    Any thoughts?

  11. paulbradshaw

    Mark, that’s exactly what happened with the plumber video I’ve seen. It was an advert, basically, but the content was useful too, which of course makes it very effective advertising.
    But as you point out, there’s little difference between that and ‘genuine’ content. The difference, of course, is a) in supply and demand (Who wants it more? The paper desperate for content, or the plumber desperate for business?)
    and b) presentation: a sponsored spot leaves much more room for ‘plugging’.

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  16. Elaine Clisham

    FINALLY somebody gets it! We have been preaching the expansion of the “ad” sales model for well over a year, to include not just banners (which are declining rapidly) but paid local search, video advertising (note to Mark Nagurski, above: absolutely there’s potential for this kind of video — it’s one of the fastest-growing online revenue opportunities), sponsored or white-label email and text, lead generation, transactional services, etc. This is a GREAT list of ideas.

    One of the problems with implementing it is that we’re still calling ’em “ad” salespeople, and our compensation models still reward print over all, when these new revenue models look nothing like print advertising. Try banning the word “advertising” from your organization and substituting the word “revenue,” and then talking about channels as well as products, and see how many possibilities that opens up.

    Another problem is that we’re asking our print salespeople to add all these digital arrows to their quiver, when the quiver is full already. Instead, we should be expanding our sales force, which very few newspapers have done. Gordon Borrell’s research (which we use in our new Newspaper Next report) shows that best-practice newspaper Web sales efforts uniformly use a dedicated sales force, hired, trained and compensated entirely differently than the print sales force, for several reasons:
    Print salespeople’s portfolios are full, and you don’t want them dropping any of their existing clients.Many print salespeople find non-print pricing and technology confusing, and won’t try to understand it.The print reps who do learn to sell digital products typically sell them to their existing clients, but that’s only about 30% of the market potential for digital revenue. The rest of the potential is online only, and you won’t get it without dedicated salespeople.

    So thanks for thinking about the revenue side. We’d love to hear about newspapers that are putting some of these ideas into practice.

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  18. Zack Wenthe

    Great article! As one of the creators of DeliveringQC.com and the new site http://www.ilvalleydeals.com it is cool to find references to it. But honestly, something like DeliveringQC isn’t enough, the biggest challenge is not that actually the lack of innovation, but the lack of execution of innovation.

    Innovation is only as good as multiplied by execution. Innovation x 0 is still 0…

    So if your newspaper wants to actually get ahead we need to find innovations, and then apply execution. Its great to talk about innovation (which newspapers do very well), but its another thing to actually execute (which newspapers do very poorly).

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  25. David Goldman

    Paul Bradshaw kindly invited me to post the following:

    I am looking for an experienced Internet advertising sales representative who thinks this way. Recently I became associated with an established news site with about 1 million unique browsers per month (Nielsen), and excellent demographics, but with no advertising staff, antiquated technology, and slapdash content. It is now getting an overhaul and should be in position to expand readership quickly. Its present revenues are small but poised for growth. Target advertising market would be financial services, travel, luxury goods, and so forth.

    If interested, please contact me.

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  27. David

    YourNews shall rise from the ashes…
    Make no mistake, newspapers are dead. In just a short time nearly all print news products will follow in their footsteps. The Internet has caused their downfall and their attempt at exploiting it WILL NOT save them. Thousands of different versions of local websites have
    popped up over the years. They all have one very important thing in common… they generate modest to no revenue and should be considered nothing more than a hobby. You cannot make a decent living on one. YourNews is the only solution in the world today that will keep the ‘Local’ alive, while affording those who operate it the opportunity to earn a substantial income. The question is, “Do you want to be part of the future or sit back and watch it pass you by?” The choice is yours. Created by the best and brightest minds in the industry, YourNews’ proprietary, state-of-theart technology has been built to preserve the Local Publisher, the Local Contributor, and the Local Advertiser. We are stepping in and replacing the daily newspaper in every market as they close their doors one by one. In doing so, we will shut out all other version of local online media in every region. No other platform can do what we do. The YourNews model allows everyone to contribute, participate, and have a voice. Most noteworthy, we have successfully cracked the much sought-after code for scalable, hyper-local news and targeted advertising. We are truly the only local Internet model that works, allowing for significant advertising revenue with little to no overhead. YourNews is perfectly positioned to weather the current and impending economic collapse. Internet advertising is projected to be one of the true bright spots in our forthcoming economy, with an expected 8.9% increase despite the massive downturns that are anticipated to occur in most sectors. The future is now. The future is YourNews. We are currently expanding into most markets, and looking for partners who wish to be a part of it.

    “Throughout history, the fall of ‘what was’ has always led to the rise of ‘what will be.’ Progress cannot be stopped, slowed or hindered. The person who attempts to do so, fails. The person who recognizes change as an opportunity and rises to the occasion, succeeds. So I ask you, which person are you?

    David B. Havanich Jr.
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  28. Sim Only Contract Deals

    That’s a great suggestion by Craig McGinty. It seems like newspaper editors do not have much experience in “online editing” as many are a bit “old fashioned” and affiliates are just good at comparison tables. I haven’t come across any decent affiliate that is good at content writing, articles, editing etc. In regards to newspapers advertising revenue, maybe they could think about letting advertisers buy ad space for both newspapers and their website. This would be a good package and also increase sales of ad space. More people are spending money on online marketing than ever.

  29. David White

    I see a core issue of poor advertising sales being that they are being sold by people with publishing industry experience and not sales experience. Sales professionals can sell anything and just need some bare knowledge on how the product works and it’s key selling points and target customers. I see many magazine publishers trying to be publishers, editors and sales people. Let the professionals do the job and revenue will arrive.

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  31. Kevin Octavio

    This was a creative effort and a step above most “how to save newspapers” articles but it fails to include the most important perspective of all, that of the advertiser. If you want to really offer insight into “how to save newspapers” or “how to save journalism”, take a walk in the shoes of an ad sales person and make some calls to advertisers and their agencies and pitch your ideas and discover how much advertisers value them and how much they are willing to pay for them. Now that newspapers are dead, tell us how advertisers allocate their dollars from the 2 or 3 local choices they used to have to the hundreds of new options that now reach their local markets. If you think your website is displacing local newspapers, how many other sites can claim the same thing? Then remember the vertically-oriented websites geared towards banking, travel, car buying, insurance, plumbing, dental services, etc. How do advertisers decide which option to choose from? How do advertisers handle dealing with the literally hundreds of new websites contacting them? How does their budget grow exponentially to fund all of these smart, innovative new vehicles to reach their customers? Pick up the phone and try to sell an ad to a hotel, a bank, a department store, and a car dealership, or just try to get an appointment to meet. Now come back and share the ideas that have passed the most important test of all, they were bought by an advertiser. If you haven’t done this, your ideas are simply academic exercises.

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  36. Eboni Tooze

    I appreciate what you may did in this article. I enjoy the area wherever you say you are doing this to supply back however , I would presume through all the feedback this is doing the job for you at the same time.

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  38. 3

    You can’t fund 1,000 people with £10-per-month subscriptions. The industry is going to be radically smaller in 10 years. The achievable pricing is too low. The Guardian has a strong visual culture, and this has been properly designed, unlike products from other news organsiations that didn’t value design. But it’s pretty and doesn’t work very well.

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