I suggested two paths. One, our paper should expand its focus merely
from selling ads to selling a service to our clients. Instead of
selling space in the paper, instead of merely “making up an ad,” we
should be in the business of partnering with our clients to create
entire campaigns. Multimedia campaigns. Make use of the newspaper, its
niche products, its web site, yes, but also find ways to create and
deliver messages across social media (like Facebook and Twitter) and in
non-traditional venues within the community. Maybe those involve
contests. Maybe those involve guerilla marketing campaigns. But find a
way to partner up with advertisers and offer a greater service to them.
Two, expand our ability to serve these clients by creating some
content-rich “niche” sites. Aim small, miss small, I thought. So we’d
go after niche topics with high reader interest and engagement that
might appeal to specific cliques of local businesses.
And where do you think those ideas went? My bosses got canned within a
few weeks. And the advertorial staff was put to work “processing” press
releases. Think small, miss big is how newspapers seem to do it.
Starting to sell eyeballs would be a step up from where most newspapers are now. I’ve never understood the inability to leverage the number of subscribers even “failing” publications had until recently, the seeming aversion to aggressively pimping one’s readers. Yes, click-through numbers online have changed the way some advertisers think about numbers in general, but when I look at this shit, I look at the wasted opportunities of the past twenty years.
Two things ain’t nobody in Chicago newspapers doing well right now:
1. Teaching people how to market to a consumer base that — and here’s the key — is just as confused about where to get its information as various media outlets are, just as fractured, just as overloaded. We’re all getting our info from a million places. Quit lecturing us about how that sucks and we should go back to the Good Old Days when if Daddy wanted you to know something he read it to you at breakfast and you took it like a man goddammit. Teach people how to use that specialization instead, because for every business too small to advertise in the Chicago Tribune there’s enough customers, still, to keep that business alive. Dennis is right that sales is basically changing to media consultancy, which the first person to hop aboard that bitch and ride it will be spinning gold out of straw.
2. Get the customers who already want to love you but can’t. There are vast swaths of this city, basically un-covered because they are poor and black. In those neighborhoods and suburbs you can’t find the paper sold, and if you don’t know about it already you won’t see it marketed. “Nobody reads us there,” was the refrain I always heard, which … okay, that’s a problem as has a solution: GO GET READERS THERE THEN. Sell as hard there as you do in Lincoln Park. Well, sell harder. And for God’s sake, at least pretend the neighborhood ain’t a foreign country when you do show up to cover it. Quit condescending and start working.
I wouldn’t mind thinking small, either, if newspapers actually did think small. If they thought small, and thought about what they were supposed to be doing, it wouldn’t matter how many shiny toys Steve Jobs put on the market. They’d already have everything they need.