Think Small, Miss Big


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.


11 thoughts on “Think Small, Miss Big

  1. Hmm. Sorry, I hate advertising with a fuckin’ passion. “Guerrilla marketing campaign?” Makes me want to pick up a weapon and fight back.
    At least in the paper version the ads don’t blink “look at me!, asshole, look at me!” all the goddamned time.
    Newspapers wouldn’t be losing subscribers if they put their resources into reporting instead of making stupid deals requiring them to go into hock to Wall Street. People would be paying more for the paper edition if it was worth more.

  2. To point #2, that series in the LAT you jumped on last week is a perfect example of how NOT to do it: Put a couple of smug, self-absorbed dumbasses in amongst the filthy masses and let them endlessly drone on about how that makes themfeel. As opposed to spending a day or two scouting for interested locals, giving them a flip cam and a laptop, telling them “record a little bit every day, write down a few thoughts on what you’ve seen at the end of the day, upload it to our site/send it to our features editor, repeat for a couple of weeks.”
    That would generate interest in communities that don’t currently show a lot of it and give some honest to God original reporting to the rest. Assuming either is a priority, of course.

  3. With Pansypoo here. Sick unto death with “relationship marketing”. Just because I read your paper, doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and by the new improved vajazzlizing Preparation-H when the ads and e-mails show up.
    I’m consumed out.

  4. “Newspapers wouldn’t be losing subscribers if they put their resources into reporting instead of making stupid deals requiring them to go into hock to Wall Street.”
    Amen. I grew up avidly reading the papers in what used to be a 2-newspaper town. When the evening paper went bust, the morning paper lost its only competition and rapidly fell into the gutter. National – and especially international – news coverage shriveled to wire service feeds and the occasional special feature. Coverage of local politics became a joke as the surviving rag seemed to exist mainly for the purpose of promoting business and development interests. When the paper became essentially a cheerleader for a terrible stadium deal, uncritically boosting all of the bogus claims of economic development that are always used to sell such projects, I stopped subscribing and haven’t looked at it a dozen times since. When the local paper offers me something of value, I may return to reading it. Until then, good riddance to what has become more often that not a source of misinformation.

  5. We used to look to newspapers, and the information media in general, to explain the competing ideas in the political marketplace to us in terms we could understand. Now it’s all horse race all the time.
    The horse race does not give us anything useful or helpful, so many of us tune out. And that’s my point, newspapers must be useful and helpful or what’s the point of reading them?

  6. The useful, local, newspaper dried up and flew away on the wings of corporatism-consumerism. It traded interest (theirs) in Stars they created (The Donald, Reagan, Billy Carter, Jackie O, Michael Jackson and sent reporters or imported feeds about them and forgot us. They played on hype and the founding families listened to the acquisition and merger promoters… who bought the locals, did away with local reporters (mostly), and gave us one more version of the stuff that they served up elsewhere.. such as the ‘value’ of the next best toy or hyped get rich quick RE games. They even reported on lines of consumers waiting for game X, Y or an i-phone, android or other thingy.
    Now many of us found alternative means to obtain facts and without the multilevel marketing schemes; we’re not going to pay or click again. We’ve been over consumed with empty calories and moved on.
    The mega $ buyers have plundered and passed of the burden to bond holders or lenders. The debts created are like liar loans, they are as BR as their ‘news’ and ‘community’ service to us. Hopefully the start-ups will figure out how to appeal to our interests again. A physical, local paper still has appeal, but I think we’re all Foxed up.

  7. Robert Morgan, nice post.
    Your comment that “A physical, local paper still has appeal” resonates with me.
    I read our local alternative paper and get genuine hard local news that gives me information I can use to evaluate local issues.
    And it’s free, all paid by advertising from local entertainment venues and other small businesses.

  8. There is such a clear example. Look at what the Yellow Pages companies have done. They do SEO, they do integrated small business campaigns.
    The newspapers can jump right on this – they have the “boots on the ground” to be the one stop marketing service for small businesses, and they can deliver results. But they have to actually change what they do to do it…

  9. What zak822 said.
    I read our local alternative weekly because it has *gasp* city council coverage that is engaging and actually talks about issues.
    I stopped reading the Sunday paper months ago. All but 2-3% of its news content is available elsewhere and in greater depth.

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