By Gary Sosniecki
Your Web site should be a revenue stream, not a revenue drain, even for the smallest weekly newspaper.
Even in a recession.
The keys are for you to be passionate about your newspaper’s Web site and to have a plan that turns that passion into dollars.
Online advertising isn’t charity. It isn’t like selling a sig page where the only business that benefits is the newspaper. Advertisers can and do benefit from advertising on Web sites of community newspapers –- the stats from your own Web site should prove it. The day you convince yourself of those benefits is the day you’ll have the passion you need to sell online ads.
Next you need a plan.
A community newspaper has two options for selling online ads.
If your site is hosted by a company that specializes in newspaper Web sites, that company probably has an Internet sales consultant you can hire to sell ads for you. That sales consultant will come to your town, make four-legged sales calls with you and your staff and use his or her knowledge of online advertising to make thousands of dollars – even tens of thousands of dollars – for your Web site.
You will pay a commission to the sales consultant or the company, usually based on a sliding scale for the amount of advertising sold. But you’ll more than cover that expense with the revenue the professional sales effort will generate. You’ll also learn good sales techniques for selling online advertising on your own. Much of what I know about selling online ads came from the sales consultant we used at a small daily newspaper in 2002 and 2003.
Your second option is to sell the ads yourself. If you have the passion and a plan, you can do it. In fact, if I could do it, anyone can.
When we launched a Web site for our mom-and-pop weekly newspaper in 2004, I came up with a plan that offered three benefits to advertisers who agreed to a 12-month commitment:
1. The first month was free. That covered us if our launch was delayed for any reason, or if we didn’t get all the ads posted on time. Besides, advertisers like the sound of the word “free.” For the next five months, they paid half-price. I told my advertisers that we’d be building traffic during that period, and I wasn’t going to charge them full price while we learned what we were doing. We charged full price the last six months, when we expected 300-500 visitors a day.
2. I offered a second ad location free. We had plenty of ad locations on our site, more than enough to offer a free, less-prominent second location to any advertiser willing to commit for 12 months.
3. Every ad on our Web site would be reproduced every week in a house ad in our print edition. The headline on the house ad read: “They make Vandalia click,” with the subhead, “Look for these advertisers 24 hours a day on www.vandalialeader.com.” The added exposure in print was a safety net for advertisers who might not be sure about the value of online ads.
With so much bang for the buck, this package was hard for advertisers to resist. We made money from the second month on. By month six, we were bringing in $800 to $900 a month from online advertising in a town of 2,400. That soon grew to $1,000-$1,100, almost matching what we brought in each month from our two biggest print advertisers. In effect, our online ads were like having two extra supermarket inserts.
How much can you make from your Web site? Take the population of your town and divide it in two. That’s what you should generate in online advertising each month. If your newspaper is in a town of 2,000, you should bring in $1,000 a month from online ads. If your town has 3,000 population, you should make $1,500. And so on. And that doesn’t include what you can make from classified ads, special sections, paid archives and e-Editions, subjects for another day.
Get passion, get a plan – and make some money!
A postscript: A free, one-hour Webinar, similar to my presentation to press associations, has been recorded and can be viewed at your convenience on your computer. E-mail me for the link to “Web Solutions for Community Newspapers.”
Gary Sosniecki is a regional sales manager for Townnews.com specializing in weekly newspapers. He owned three weekly newspapers and published a small daily in Missouri during a 34-year newspaper career. He may be reached at email@example.com.