Beat COVID-19 challenges by listening

Dave Gauger

May 1, 2020

The capacity to listen is an indispensable talent for those of us in media.

Nothing has driven this reality home with more force than the current coronavirus pandemic. Do you know a good newsroom filled primarily with mere talkers?
Quality news content requires a reporter with multiple skills, but primary among them is listening, and often hearing even the unspoken.

Failing ad sales departments are filled with noisy talkers too busy to listen long enough to hear potential customers’ objectives and, yes, objections.

COVID-19 has temporarily decimated advertising revenues — painfully reminding us all that money is the starting point or basis upon which quality, independent journalism depends. The 2008 recession was a wake-up call for savvy publishers with an 18% revenue decline for magazines and a whopping 27% dollar drop for newspapers.

For those media managers listening, 2008 sparked a willingness to hear what the market had long been telling us — namely, success belongs to multimedia, multiplatform venues delivering hyper-local editorial and advertising content.

While the market for years has been speaking loud and clear — with far too few listening — success now belongs to publishers with large quivers filled with an array of arrows.

In addition to traditional print products, a successful quiver must reach across multimedia platforms — providing advertisers with online marketing options including digital e-editions and e-newsletters, analytic reports on page views, click-throughs and impressions.

And there is more! Borrowing from successful magazine publishers, newspapers are slowly experimenting with event sponsorships. These events generate participation and, thus, a sense of ownership among both news and adverting consumers.

Throughout my publishing career, the most successful team members always have been highly skilled listeners.

A classic example was an ad sales rep whom — I believe — could sell birth control pills to an 80–year–old spinster.

During his first call, he always made it clear to his prospective advertiser that his mission that day was NOT to sell. Instead, his goal was to listen and learn about the merchant’s products, services and target customers.

Then he would go back to his office and craft a detailed promotion package aimed at ringing his customer’s cash register.

He always crafted packages that included multiple insertions. And, often, his follow-up visits included sample speck ads.

His success started with listening.

He was a top salesman who fully understood that editorial content was not “that stuff that fills in around the ads.” Rather, he understood that advertising gained credibility when sharing pages with local, credible, community journalism.

This COVID-19 crisis has proven that consumers’ trust is highest primarily with local media — folks close enough to “hear.”

But, these consumers want critical information more frequently than once a week. Those local newsrooms providing daily digital updates have experienced significant upticks in both online and print subscriptions. And when front street shops reopen, it is the media offering multi-venues that will quickly make up for lost time.

Dave Gauger, a past president of Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA) and former newspaper publisher and radio broadcaster, is president of Gauger Media Service Inc., a newspaper and magazine brokerage and consulting firm located at