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  banner ad when you could be selling a half page ad?

  1. 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)?
  1. 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%).”

  1. 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.

  1. 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…

  1. 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:

  • How about letting users work out their body mass index as part of an ad for a health club?
  • How about selling that cute little widget to the health club website as well? Or showing them how to allow users to embed it on their own sites?
  • How about allowing users to email an ad to a friend at a click?
  • How about creating a branded game for the client – again, that can go on their own website too.
  • How about a mobile-based weekly dining-and-entertainment advertorial touted as a roundup of things to do offered as part of a joint print/online promotional package for bars and restaurants.

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.

  1. Think about vouchers/coupons

This will not be new to readers in the US, where coupons are a big part of newspaper advertising, 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.”

  1. 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…

  1. 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.”

  1. Work in networks

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

Ad sales people should build the same skills.

On a basic organizational 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 organization. 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


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