Today, ad reps must be recruited

Chip Hutcheson

Jul 1, 2023

Who is selling for your newspaper? Who is training the ad rep? Is the ad rep trained at all? How is the ad rep mentored and held accountable? What is your procedure for hiring new ad reps?

Far too many times these days, you see announcements about newspapers reducing their workforce. ‘Scaling down operations’ is a term that has become common in the industry — it might soon reach the point that one might read, “Due to recent cutbacks, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off until further notice.”

So how do we keep the light on, particularly when it comes to newspaper advertising?

As you read Pub Aux every month, you’ll find plenty of motivating and informative articles by Robert Williams and others that provide tips on generating ad sales. Following advice from these articles certainly is helpful in generating revenue.

There’s no scarcity of ad ideas, but one facet of the advertising dynamic that could be the most overlooked involves personnel. Who is selling for your newspaper? Who is training the ad rep? Is the ad rep trained at all? How is the ad rep mentored and held accountable? What is your procedure for hiring new ad reps?

A decade ago, these questions were not top-of-mind for the majority of community newspapers. That’s because the owner frequently was the person selling ads in the community. There were many couples who ran newspapers — one would handle advertising and the other the news operation. But with chain organizations buying many family owned newspapers, that has changed the landscape.

Today, ad reps must be recruited. And it’s not a simple or easy process in smaller communities. Today, there are various titles used that make that job sound more significant, such as account executive or sales specialist. The bottom line is that newspapers should be as frank as possible on stating what the job is and what abilities are necessary for success.

I could not help but laugh at an ad spotted recently seeking an advertising representative. The ad specified the person should be skilled in written, oral and interpersonal communication, and that a plus would be someone with a bachelor’s degree with courses in advertising, marketing, sales and business writing. The applicant should use professional sales techniques, be able to make creative marketing and sales presentations and use marketing research. Oh, and be able to develop ad layouts.

That ad was for a newspaper in a town of 6,000 people, and screamed “we want someone with a college degree, 30 years experience, have the energy of a 20-year-old and will work for very little money.” It also intimated that the person should be skilled so that no training by the company would be necessary and no mentoring needed.

In a small community, that’s not the way to find a successful salesperson. My experience was that noticing the potential in people you see working in your community can be your best recruiting strategy. The best sales reps are often those who have people skills, initiative and an evident desire to provide excellent customer service. Approach someone with those traits and relate your vision — say you have a position open that can maximize their God-given abilities, give them job satisfaction and the possibility of a career that can be not only profitable but personally rewarding.

Once the person agrees to take the job, nurture them by providing one-on-one instruction and relaying every bit of sales advice you have learned. Taking the time to invest personally with the new employee will show you want that person to succeed and will build loyalty between the person and the newspaper.

Many newspaper chains have not figured out that a local person is vital to selling in a small community. Stretching an ad rep to sell for multiple newspapers in various communities rarely results in success. That’s why revenue continues to slip and cutbacks continue to mount.

• • •

A locally owned newspaper in western Kentucky has faced the reality that the big advertisers of yesteryear, such as car dealerships, groceries and real-estate companies, are vanishing from newspaper pages. But credit Mark Stone, owner/editor/publisher of The Times-Argus in Central City, Kentucky, with adapting to the shifting landscape.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the weekly paper was typically 16 pages. It’s not uncommon now for the paper to be from 32 to 40-plus pages at least once a month.

Stone, who has handled ad sales since the mid-1970s, makes the most of special section opportunities. Advertisers appear eager to participate in special sections that ‘feel-good’ for the community.

After a large graduation special in May, the paper came back the following week with a 32-page issue preceding Memorial Day. The issue was loaded with ads “honoring all our veterans and remembering all the fallen soldiers who have fought so bravely in the name of freedom.” Advertisers included medical professionals and hospitals, elected officials, funeral homes and monument companies, insurance companies, nursing homes, government entities, plus a quarter-page from Walmart.

Other special sections that generate large ad volume include graduation, Christmas, health and fitness, high school football, two issues for high school basketball, two medical specials, two agriculture and two home and garden issues. “The agriculture specials have grown tremendously,” Stone said. Most of the advertisers in those specials are located in the county, although the ag product draws advertisers from larger communities, including Nashville, Tennessee.

The Times-Argus is located in a town of 5,900 people. Besides Stone, the employees are graphic artist Charlotte Balla and reporter Crystal Woodruff. A couple of free lance photographers provide superb sports coverage.

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.