9 Opportunities For Association Ad Agencies

The future of newspaper trade associations depends on becoming even more Relevant in finding advertising and marketing dollars for members.

Here’s to their success. Newspaper ads work.

I had the honor yesterday of presenting a Relevance Project update to the NAM Advertising Conference. The overall message: Start with a mindset that advertising services are the No. 1 benefit an association offers its members.

Part of a series available to download on http://www.relevanceproject.net

Feeding off The Relevance Project as an opportunity for NAM, I spent the back half of my 45 minutes listing actions the associations’ advertising staffs can consider when upgrading their strategies and sharpening their priorities.

My presented “9 Major Opportunities” were based on a review of the information on the associations’ websites about their advertising services and a year of conversations with NAM members.

My list is by no means definitive. But it’s meant to provoke discussion and self-analysis. Again, it’s based on how associations pitch their services.

A bonus consideration: Greater collaboration can speed desired results despite stretched local resources. That’s where the NAM network, including The Relevance Project, can help.

Onto The Nifty Nine:

  1. Make A Spectacular, Convincing Case For Newspapers: Upgrade your advocacy for local newspapers as the most trusted media. Focus less on talking about the sales process, and more on the effectiveness of newspapers in general as well as more on the unique value of community newspapers. (“LOCAL, LIKE YOU” is a Relevance Project promotion, for example.) Brag in the advertising services section that an informed reader is the best customer for clients and explain why. Tout the fact that local journalism attracts a quality audience.
  2. Use Data To Win Sales, Commit To Updated Research: Invest in readership and advertising surveys, local, regional and state research, and other facts that show newspapers are the best choice. Find the money. Too many sites are research deserts. Make a stronger case with facts that motivate customers to partner with us. If necessary, pool investment dollars and collaborate with other associations. But by all means, lean into current data.
  3. Go After Marketing Dollars, Not Just Advertising Deals: Accept the reality that marketing, not advertising, budgets are growing. Think like a marketer to pull in more of these dollars that are going into digital solutions. Which has a better future: Marketing or advertising? Follow the money.
  4. Use Video To Upgrade The Industry’s Image: Video might be the easiest way to show newspapers are platform agnostic. Plus, video can upset damaging stereotypes about our industry — stodgy, resistant to change, and dull. Please! Forecasters point to spending shifts that favor video and OTT (over-the-top media; video on demand delivered via the Internet). Update your image big time. We’re more than “those print people.” Prove it. Extra Points: Practice by completing an exercise of converting your various written messages to video. Step by step. Don’t forget to add creativity.
  5. Boast You Solve Problems; Go Beyond Just “One Call, One Bill”: Associations have done a great job documenting how they make it easier for ad buyers to reach newspapers. So, let’s assume most people know the association is indeed a one-stop shop. If that’s all you are, then it’s limiting. Zero in on how you solve customers’ problems and deliver solutions that increase their business. Solutions attract others. Boast you are a solutions machine. One Call, Many Solutions. Sounds better already.
  6. Think Economic Development — Markets, Not Newspaper Titles: This might be my favorite suggestion. Maybe it’s because I’m a former business news editor. Build on the ad agency approach by stressing the attractiveness and diversity of your MARKETS and why they are valuable. Value propositions in this case are more than a list of newspapers titles. Be a tour guide to your state or province, and get excited about larger business possibilities, thanks to newspapers. Think of the association as a business developer with money to invest and draw attention to markets that have potential for businesses to grow. Consider: What if advertising services were pure economic development?
  7. Commit To Innovation: We must fight the perception that we are a medium of the past. I know it’s frustrating. Take a deep breath. Think here: Innovate processes, products and peoples’ skills. Add to your digital expertise. Be a nexus of innovations for association members. Build labs if you have to in order to practice innovations. Promote it. Move into innovation as a home.
  8. Elevate Testimonials And Reviews, Wins With Partners: Tell these stories. Inspire. Use testimonials for Boomers. Reviews for Millennials. And both for Generation X. Avoid dull at every chance. Great sales make great stories. The journey to a sales victory is ripe for storytelling. Here’s another opportunity to use video to tell stories about your staff’s ability to help customers succeed. Stack up your victories and update regularly. Use social media to amplify. Work on making your clients’ successes your achievements.
  9. Add “New” to Newsletters: Associations distribute admirable newsletters. Many are weekly. More could include “news” about advertising services. So, go ahead and celebrate a sale. Salute your advertiser partners. Cheer newspapers that makes an association sale. Give the ad reps space to talk about, yes, opportunities. It’s OK to start a trend: BREAKING SALES.

There you have it. What did I miss? Tell me and I’ll add to the list.

In the meantime, here’s to association advertising services winning big in 2021 — and beyond.

–Tom Silvestri

Author’s Note: A special thanks to conference organizer Mark Maassen in Missouri for the invitation.

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