Go after non-customers relentlessly

By Steve Outing

Here’s more good advice from Newspaper Next 2.0 (American Press Institute). As the report points out, in most newspaper markets, less than half of local consumers are frequent newspaper readers and as little as one-quarter or less of local businesses are newspaper advertisers. The latter figure is the result of most newspapers 1) not having ad programs that are affordable and effective for very small businesses, and 2) newspapers not bothering to court the smallest businesses in their communities.

Report author Stephen T. Gray says that newspaper companies, as they transform into “local information and connection utilities,” need to refocus on the entire local market. “Because it sees every consumer and every business as a must-have customer, it relentlously pursues non-customers,” he writes.

Targeting small businesses as potential advertisers of course means that there must be a serious effort to automate advertising orders. Newspapers traditionally have relied heavily on human ad reps, but that’s too costly when you’re creating low-cost opportunities for small businesses that have never before spent a dollar with the local newspaper company. (Many have done little more than pay for “Yellow Pages” ads.) So newspaper companies need to develop more ways for small businesses to reach target markets which can be ordered through automated online methods.

Google’s AdWords program is the gold standard. Small businesses can order contextual ads that show up in front of online searchers who are looking for something specific — and they can spend as little or as much as they want. Another is Facebook’s Social Ads program, which gives advertisers fairly fine-grain targeting. Those are the kinds of automated advertising-order programs that newspaper companies need to create more of to tap the 75%-plus of local businesses currently not doing business with newspapers.

Gray envisions a day when a transformed newspaper company “sets out on a long-term plan to add non-consuming audiences and businesses to its customer base until it reaches essentially the whole consumer market and servers virtually all businesses.” That’s a lofty goal. There’s no way that newspaper companies as currently configured can get anywhere near that. It will take a wholesale transformation.

Difficult? No doubt. Essential? Absolutely.

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!