Here are some ideas to increase your advertising dollars

Chip Hutcheson

May 1, 2023

Specialty advertising can be a profitable market. You can develop connections that can be your source for a customer who wants their business name on ink pens or golf balls.

Of all the obstacles and challenges facing the newspaper business, many would say the most pressing one is how to increase revenue.

It seems that many newspapers — particularly chain newspapers — are obsessed with cutting expenses. But I fall in the camp of those who insist “you cannot cut your way to prosperity.”

I see many newspapers abandon projects and walk away from money-making ventures that aren’t part of the primary role of newspapers. Tackling this problem of increasing revenue is a sticky one, so consider how some of the ideas listed below could be helpful in your quest to increase revenue and your bottom line.
When ad reps call on customers, make sure they mention the famous quote from Henry Ford: “The person who stops advertising to save money is like someone who stops the clock to save time.”

Without delving deep into advertising opportunities, which will be the focus of a Pub Aux issue later this year, here are a few thoughts that can increase advertising income.

• Targeted special sections. Sure, no newsroom staff relishes the idea of a special section being dumped on them. After all, they argue, the staff’s plate is full just reporting on the normal news routine.

But look at counters in convenience stores, groceries and restaurants, and you’ll find niche publications that are taking ad dollars from your community and your advertisers. One of our most successful projects was a quarterly medical magazine. Doctors and hospitals are willing to spend their dollars on magazine-style products.

Real estate and home special sections are also revenue generators. Most real estate companies have abandoned print and developed their own websites, but it can be an easy sell when you can deliver a high-quality printed piece and place it in local restaurants and high traffic businesses.
So why are these not embraced by newspapers? Often the argument is that it requires too much editorial expense. But for some of them, stories might not be needed. A real estate publication can succeed by being 100% advertising. In other cases, enlist advertisers to submit stories — sell them a full page and give them space (a half page preferably), and be sure to label the story as “advertorial.”

Another option is a tabloid–size kids book, having images that can be colored and utilizing large-size but simple puzzles. Let advertisers know these will be delivered free to preschools, public and private schools.

• Develop advertising opportunities apart from the printed paper. Last month, there was a Pub Aux focus on digital ads and driving traffic to digital opportunities.

Take that concept to another level. Many newspapers have profited by buying electronic billboards and using them to bring in revenue. If your newspaper is in a high-traffic area, you have a major advantage in selling ads on that billboard. Notice how those signs have multiplied in recent years. Why not get into that market and use your advertising expertise to be a major asset in capturing advertisers?

• It’s no secret that newspapers are having difficulty maintaining circulation revenue. What seems to be lost in recent years is the focus on circulation revenue. As postal increases increase, it is going to be even more difficult to generate revenue from subscriptions since those costs will continue to increase as postage rises. What’s troubling in so many communities is the dearth of single-copy locations, especially for chain-owned newspapers. Some have abandoned racks altogether because of maintenance issues.

But giving up that part of a newspaper’s franchise is not healthy for the bottom line. Consider businesses and other entities in your community that might sponsor newspapers for schools, hospitals and other health care facilities. It’s excellent PR for non-traditional advertisers that often have deep pockets to help address community needs.

• Our company had a strong revenue stream from our in-house printing business. Getting into that business is easier than ever now with the advent of quality digital printers — meaning you don’t need a press operator to produce a flawless four-color product. But offering printing does not mean you have to do the printing yourself. Developing relationships with trade printers can pay huge benefits. We had customers who needed high-volume printing, which we did not do. We did design the job but then outsourced the printing. We included the design work in the cost, then put at least a 30% markup on what we had to pay for it to be printed elsewhere.

• Specialty advertising can be a profitable market. You can develop connections that can be your source for a customer who wants their business name on ink pens or golf balls. At election time, candidates need yard signs and bumper stickers. Develop relationships with third–party vendors — you take the order, send it to the partnering firm, mark up the cost and provide it to the customer. You have made the customer happy, and hopefully those folks will reciprocate by advertising with you. You have increased revenue with very little work involved.

• On a final note, consider how newspapers have changed the ways they have messaged the need for people to subscribe to the local newspaper. Decades ago, the subscription message was: Subscribe so you won’t miss any of the news of your community. That all changed in the past 10-15 years. I saw an Atlanta (Georgia) Journal-Constitution message to readers in 2009, where Publisher Doug Franklin thanked subscribers for reading the newspaper and told them the paper has “never needed you more.”

That message across the country has only intensified with each passing year.

Today, many newspapers are urging people to subscribe so the newspaper will survive. That message doesn’t seem to work well, perhaps because in some cases, the newspaper has declined so much in its coverage that people believe it is already dead.

I understand the sympathy plea, but people are more likely to subscribe if they believe they are getting value for their money. Find ways through community events to engage the public, beef up the product, promote it wisely and you may well find that increased revenue will follow.

Chip Hutcheson is the retired publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton, Kentucky. He was NNA president in 2015. He currently serves as a content strategist for Kentucky Today, the online news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.