How one paper solved its 'Monday problem'
In the following guest article, Al Bonner, the general manager of the 20k-circulation daily, tells how the paper sold almost all the ad positions for a year within a matter of weeks.
By Al Bonner
Like most newspapers, Monday and Tuesday editions are “weak” days, with little or no advertising and a lower overall page count. Over the years, we have tried incentives and packaging to increase ad count and revenues for these issues, but the results still end up the same over time: no advertiser interest and a dwindling news product.
Instead of looking at eliminating one or both of these issues to save expenses, we took another more radical approach. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Our objective was to develop an entirely new product and an entirely new audience from the ground up. Our target audience was time challenged, younger women (age 25 to 45) with families and a wide range of interests like fashion, schools, home design, raising their kids, saving time, and improving their health, their mind and their spirit.
To attract this reader, we needed to create a colorful, dramatic design, in a smaller format with advertising and information they valued. The product needed to be open and ads needed to be modular and unique in content and format. We also needed to test our content and theories on readers and non-readers to make sure we launched with a high degree of calculated customer satisfaction.
From a circulation/subscription perspective, we needed a brand new product that would stand out in the racks and our dealer locations, and be valuable enough to entice more non-subscribers to purchase or subscribe to the Monday paper or a combination of Sunday and Monday. To start with, we did not package issues that, up until this point, women non-subscribers have had no interest in. Hopefully over time, they will want to receive the newspaper seven days a week.
The development of GO started with a very different collection of employees. As noted above, we were looking for a radical approach. Instead of our normal process of the news department designing the product, we decided to use a fresh set of eyes and ideas.
As a result, we brought in a designer and manager from our advertising ad design team. We charged them with designing a prototype and making content suggestions with examples. Both were female and part of the target age group. The result was a colorful, magazine style product that was much more in-tune with the target audience. Our news staff loved the design, as did our sales team. It was a perfect non-traditional approach to creating a new print product.
We printed several hundred copies of the prototype on our own presses, using heavy, bright-white stock. We hired a professional focus group coordinator and held four different focus groups. The first group was a mix of current subscribers, male and female. The second was just female subscribers. The third was female non-subscribers in our target demographic. The fourth was a group of 25 and under females. We also gave the prototype to a variety of female groups along with a questionnaire. This produced a variety of different opinions and suggestions that drove the changes we made in a second prototype. The second version was used by the sales team and for further feedback and ad sales.
Our sales managers sent our sales team out to show advertisers the prototype and get them excited about the product. Feedback was very positive. Businesses were invited to one of two presentations held in our conference room here at the newspaper. The goal was to only sell new advertisers or add-on business.
The product was introduced with a presentation from our design, advertising, marketing and news teams. A large board with all 32 pages of ad positions was posted in the conference room. Advertisers were signed up on the spot. Sixty-five percent of the ads were sold at the meeting and the rest of the ads were sold over the next 2 weeks before launch. Ninety percent of the ad positions were sold out before launch, resulting in $340,000 in new revenue. Contracts were sold for either 52 weeks or 26 alternating weeks. So, GO was nearly sold out for 52 weeks.
To draw attention to GO, we positioned the tabloid to be the primary product on Monday. GO was wrapped around the regular, two-section newspaper, so that the first thing a subscriber saw was GO. There was a little confusion on the first day, but that went away after the second issue.
Three thoughts drove this positioning. One, we wanted the product to be considered part of the newspaper, rather than a special section. Two, we wanted women non-readers to see the product in the rack and on the newsstands and be immediately drawn to the color and the cover. Three, we wanted the product to have high importance and high visibility to attract maximum attention.
We plan to continue to position the product in this manner.
In addition to the product positioning noted above, we delivered approximately 1,500 free copies of the first two issues to medical offices, coffee shops, all of the participating advertisers and other key businesses. Our objective was to get GO in the hands of as many women as possible.
We also began sampling home-delivered copies of GO to 600 non-subscribers for eight weeks. We will keep in contact with them about the product and offer them a Sunday, Monday subscription, as well as a special seven-day offer. A postcard was mailed to the targeted households a few days ahead of the product launch, letting the customer know they had been chosen for an eight-week sample of our new magazine. Every eight weeks, we will begin sampling another 600 non-subscribers.
Our ad managers visited or talked with every contracted advertiser to get his or her feedback and to thank the advertisers for their purchases. We will be maintaining weekly contact with the advertisers to make sure we are delivering the results they were expecting. All of our advertisers were very pleased with their ads and the product. We also visited many other businesses to introduce them to the product to tell them about the great feedback our readers were providing.
Thus far, reader reaction within our target audience has been extremely positive. We plan to do follow-up surveys after readers have had an opportunity to use the product for six weeks or so. We have had only a few complaints from some older readers who do not like GO.
A couple key points: Readers love all the color, the openness of the design, the positive and useful content and the fact it was presented in a tab format. Many commented that they would like to see the regular newspaper printed in the same format.
Early on, we are very pleased with the steady increase in single copy sales. After week two, we had seen an increase of more than 15%. While it’s very early in the life of the product, we expect sales to continue to grow in the coming weeks.