Even a news guy can sell the Internet

By Gary Sosniecki

I’m a news guy.

Sure, I sold ads for the two decades my wife and I owned weekly newspapers, and I wasn’t bad at it. But my wife was a better salesman that I was. I handled most of the news.

When we launched our Web site in 2004, however, I handled all the ad sales as well as the news.

I could sell the Internet. I enjoyed selling the Internet. In fact, I sold enough advertising that our Web site generated $1,000 to $1,100 a month for the next three years, which was like having two extra supermarket
inserts for our little rural newspaper.

If a news guy like me can sell online advertising, you can, too.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Set prices that are high enough to show that your Web site has value but low enough that you’re not robbing your print edition. Target money your advertisers are spending with radio stations and out-of-town newspapers and shoppers. The goal is for your Web site to become “the second buy” in your market, after your newspaper.

Although most online buys for national advertising are based on CPM pricing – cost per 1,000 impressions – it’s easiest in a small town to price by the month. You understand it, your bookkeeper understands it, and
your advertisers will understand it. (Internally, you ought to understand CPM pricing as a starting point for setting sponsorship rates.)

If your ad site is designed for the larger ads preferred by ad agencies today (like leaderboards and skyscrapers), a good rule of thumb is to charge the same price for an online ad, per month, that you do for a
quarter-page ad, per week, in your newspaper. For example, if a quarter-page in your newspaper is $125 a week, charge $125 a month for the large ads on the home page of your Web site. If you’re still using the
smaller banners and buttons, adjust your prices accordingly.

Charge less for ads “below the fold” on your Web site. And reduce the price 25 to 50 percent for your inside pages. Your obituary page, which will draw more traffic than any page except your home page, should be
priced higher than other inside pages. Funeral homes, florists and hotels are good bets for ads on your obit page.

Your time for selling is limited, so try to get your advertisers to commit for one year. When we launched our site, we gave online advertisers the first month free in exchange for a one-year commitment. The next five
months, as online readership grew, the advertisers paid half-price. They paid full price for the last six months. Even at the discounted rate, we made a profit on our Web site from the second month on.

Part of the enticement was the added value we gave by reprinting their online ads in a house ad in our print edition each week. You can do the same. Headline the house ad: “They make (your town) click!” Subhead: “Look for these advertisers 24 hours a day on (your domain).”

The total package was hard for advertisers to turn down.

Who are your best prospects in a small town?

I already mentioned funeral homes, florists and hotels. Also try banks (especially those with online banking), car dealers, mobile-home dealers, real-estate agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, nursing homes and
assisted-living centers, dentists, chiropractors, stockbrokers, restaurants (if the restaurant doesn’t have its own Web site to link to, post its menu and link to it), insurance agents, tourist attractions, fast food, photo studios (especially if their own Web site has a photo gallery), supermarkets, drug stores, computer stores, travel agents, bowling alleys, state legislators, attorneys, cell-phone dealers and auctioneers.

Keep your advertisers happy after the sale with personalized monthly “online traffic reports” that show how many people saw their online ads and how many clicked through from your site to their sites. The more
information you give your advertisers, the better they’ll feel about spending money on your Web site.

And the more you’ll look like the Internet advertising expert in your community.

Even if you’re a news guy.


Gary Sosniecki is a regional sales manager for Townnews.com specializing in weekly newspapers. He has owned three weekly newspapers and published a small daily in Missouri during a 34-year newspaper career. He may be reached at gsosniecki@townnews.com.

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