Calling All Storytellers: Be Captivating For Newspapers

Newspapers are a unique story.

As 2020 winds down, we all need to be more purposeful on how to tell it. This time of major change now upon us is a great opportunity for storytellers touting newspapers.
A couple of suggestions:

Avoid overdoing the challenges. Please, please don’t open with: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The best icebreakers are often a memorable joke. But you also might want to skip the one that begins, “A psychologist, priest and publisher walk into a bar…”
Rather, talk from the heart about why newspaper are THE Community Forum and vital to a healthy Democracy. Explain why everyday is a vote for newspapers as well as the importance of supporting the keeper of facts and community context for the next generations.

We found reliable ingredients for storytellers at last week’s virtual ArkLaMiss Marketing and Audience Development Conference.

The program’s keynoter is an initiative and idea machine — Peter W. Wagner, founder and publisher of the N’West Iowa REVIEW.

He isn’t bashful either.

“Am I the only one…who believes in the future of the printed paper?” read one of his slides.

His presentations offered textbook lessons on what it takes to be a successful community newspaper and delivered 25-plus marketing and product victories.

Overall, Wagner asserted that successful papers inform, entertain, lead (this includes being a cheerleader when appropriate) and educate.

Newspapers also provide “Vitamin C” to the communities they serve: Consensus, Continuity, Commitment, Credibility and Cooperation.

For the master storyteller touting newspapers, Wagner listed specific chapters that build a compelling narrative. We’ll call them Relevant Points:

  • *The paper’s connection to the community.
  • *Demographics (about the readers you reach).
  • *Special marketing services you provide.
  • *Selection of publications you offer.
  • *Any broadcast or digital opportunities.
  • *Your personal knowledge of business.
  • *Ways the paper can help build revenue.
  • *Rates, deadlines, distribution.

We recommend adding memorable experiences that show your passion for newspapering and your community’s engagement with the trusted local brand.

Sprinkle in testimonials. For example, Wagner showed this quote from Christina Smith, an assistant professor of Mass Communications at the Georgia College and State University:

“Community newspapers are the most relied upon news source in they area the serve. Community leaders believe their local newspapers, journalists and owners are community builders, providing relevant, truthful, local information.”

That helps us sum up the overall message: Be bold.
Thank you, Peter Wagner.

Calling all storytellers. Take it from here.


Exhibit A: Newspapers Readers Are The Greatest

Note: This is the Relevant Point of the Month (November).

Jessica Hoagland of St. Louis, MO, went back home on a visit.

There, she picked up a copy of the local newspaper in Columbus, IN.

It just so happens The Republic was participating in National Newspaper Week during October and was kind enough to publish my related commentary, “Vote For Newspapers.”

Hoagland read it and then shared an idea.

Dear Republic,

I often return home to Columbus to visit my mother and enjoy my hometown, and I never miss a chance to read “The Republic”.

I particularly enjoyed Tom Silvestri’s article on local newspapers and was inspired to story-map it. I have a love and affinity for local newspapers, and these are my study notes as I navigate the new media landscape and simply try to figure out what’s going on.

Most people are visual learners and benefit from hearing a particular message at least twice, so if you enjoy my story-map, and want to reprint it, please let me know so that I can hurry up and finish it off.

Attached is a draft.

Again, thank you to “The Republic” for who you are and what you do!


Jessica Hoagland

She copied me on the email.

I reviewed the artwork, which diagrammed what a newspaper looks like when it’s the Community Forum.

Stop the presses.

That hit home with The Relevance Project, which is all about telling the true story of the strength, viability and importance of community newspapers.

I responded with thanks and a request to share the story-map with our press associations and their member newspapers.

The answer was yes, and Hoagland then made a few revisions.

“Vote for Newspapers — The Village Square” borrows Relevant Points and forever links local papers with a healthy democracy. Check.

Accurate reporting improves citizens’ knowledge and roots out corruption and malfeasance. Check.

To stay viable, community newspapers need subscriptions, advertisements and engaged readers. Check. (You can add: Now more than ever.)

Hoagland put a star or main character in the middle of The Village Square: “Brave Journo.” Double check.

“I’ve included both a large file and a web-sized file; I find the story-maps need to be at least 5X7″ in order to remain legible in print,” she advised.

Hoagland noted the website and composed “a few words to set up the map for newspapers who might want to re-print it.”

Read on:

To: Editor, Community Newspaper

I often return home to Columbus (Indiana) to see my mother and I never miss a chance to read “The Republic” which rivals my big city newspaper for quality of content.

I was so taken by the article on “The Village Square” by Tom Silvestri that I was inspired to sit right down and create this story-map. These are really my study notes as I struggle to figure out what’s going on while navigating a media landscape that keeps changing under my feet.

Since most people are visual learners and benefit from receiving the same message more than once, I’m sending the map along with my permission for any local community paper to re-print. I’m a big fan of local community newspapers and Tom’s article helped “sharpen the knowledge” of what’s on my mind.

By the way, my mom suggested using a gazebo to represent the Village Square.

Jessica Hoagland
St. Louis, MO

This week, I spoke with a very busy editor of The Republic — but not too busy to answer the phone — who said Hoagland’s story-map is still being consider for publication.

“We just need to get through the post-election,” Julie McClure said. “My phone is constantly ringing. We need to figure out what’s going to happen to Mike Pence,” the vice president and Indiana politician who was born in Columbus on June 7, 1959.

McClure was doing exactly what the Village Square holds true for newspapers like the Republic: “Think Global, Act Local.” In Columbus, Pence is the ultimate local story.
When I wrote the National Newspaper Week column, I was hoping to see a few emails from readers interested in continuing the discussion. I wasn’t expecting The Relevance Project to one day earn its own framable artwork.

It only goes to show that good things can happen when you vote for newspapers and when newspapers, in turn, push forward as THE Community Forum.

Or, The Village Square.

Thank you, Jessica Hoagland. Long live the engaged newspaper reader.


Move Beyond Defective Polls To Adopt Scenario Reporting

Defund the pollsters.

Community newspapers should drop polling as an outdated attempt at predicting election results. Polling has been disrupted by several sticky factors, including social media’s impact on discourse, robocalls and scammers that disgust phone users, and general mistrust in institutions.

It’s also laughable how pollsters acknowledge they don’t reach certain segments of people and are clueless about rural areas of America.

“Polling continues to face the challenge of declining participation,” according to a Nov. 5 article in The Wall Street Journal headlined “Pollsters Grapple With Another Presidential Miss.”

“As fewer people pick up the phone for unknown callers, survey-response rates have fallen from 26% in 1997 to 6% in 2018 at the Pew Research Center, the group says,” the article reports. “The rise of cellphones has raised costs, since by law they can’t be called with autodialers, prompting pollsters to hunt for new ways to find respondents.”

It adds:

“Some pollsters said that state and local polls had been particularly off-course.”

Had enough?

Rest assured, there’s a Relevant replacement.

Newsrooms, move away from the mirage of crafting accurate predictions based on polls and embrace reporting and fact-based commentary that rely on insightful scenarios.

Present readers with reporting that describes three scenarios or dominant possibilities:

  • What it would take for a community or region to improve. List those factors.
  • What would cause the current state to get worse? Describe them in detail. Think warning signs.
  • And what would be the future if things stayed the same, or the status quo?



No change.

Use those lenses to condition citizens on what’s ahead.

Describing scenarios is much more valuable than guessing who will finish first in a political race.

Give readers verified signals as to how they would know life is improving or getting worse. And confirm how perishable the current times are with the same results continuing and when would change be necessary.

Scenarios would require more in-the-field reporting to judge perspectives but it also would use data to note trends, aberrations and milestones. It would enlist reasoned thinking about possible changes.

Reporters would keep asking, “How do you know that?” The answers would source any conclusions and encourage a process to connect the dots with good reason.

I used scenario planning when thinking about my newspaper’s (and job’s) future. (It’s also a great tool to manage change.)

I would list what would have to happen for the results to improve or show growth.

Then, I’d start a new line of thinking about the danger signs that could bring a painful decline or disaster — hence, the need for preparing a disaster plan for the worst-case scenarios. (Example: What would happen if we lost the printing plant? Major advertiser? Computer system?)
And finally, I’d assess what “no changes” would mean to see how long what’s working well could extend success and how you could tweak certain weaknesses so they weren’t disruptive.

An election poll asks citizens how they would vote and what they think at THAT time.
Scenario planning covers three options that better frame the future.

In politics, knowing what the improved or better scenario for your community would compel you to more effectively assess candidates’ platforms and advocacy.

Knowing the worst-case scenarios would allow you to provide readers will warning signs and whether any of the proposed solutions could be reliable routes.

And firmly describing the current state removes distracting debates where facts are unclear or being manipulated to confuse the uniformed.

The Relevant recommendation to newsrooms is to put more resources into scenarios to guide and strengthen overall reporting.

Forget the pollsters who continue to stumble on how best to interview people.

That’s your job, one you know well in uplifting trusted journalism.

Take back the facts.


‘Comp-tologist’ Skills Can Pay Off For A Publisher

One in a series on Relevant Trends

Everyone looks for a secret sauce in building and coaching successful sales teams.

But time and effort are better spent learning to become a comp-tologist.
Getting right the compensation of sellers so it leads to increased revenue and motivated staffs is as important as having products that attract advertisers and sponsors.

Follow the money and data.

Today’s Relevant Point returns to an October presentation that revealed the results of the first newspaper sales compensation study produced jointly by America’s Newspapers, Editor and Publisher, and the Media Staffing Network.

In her crisp presentation, Laurie Kahn, the president and CEO of Media Staffing Network, translated the data into warning signs publishers should confront and actions steps newspapers should take.

Doing so could mean the difference between achieving 2021 revenue goals and having to deal with failure.

Among the warning signs:

  • Newspaper ad staffs are aging and what’s needed is a stronger strategy to recruit and retain the younger generations. The compensation study found approximately 3 out of 10 sellers are between the ages of 30 and 40. The rest are over 40. “The younger generation is where the work needs to be done,” Kahn said.

The advice: Stress the digital side of business. (A good sign: The study found more than 9 out of 10 respondents now have one sales team to sell all products. Digital is integrated.)

  • Newspapers are missing opportunities to retain new hires. Either they (35 percent) can make more money elsewhere or they (24 percent) didn’t understand “what they were getting into when they accepted the job.” Poor fit also was cited.

The advice: Do a much better job of telling your story to attract interest and top talent. Update your website, career page and social media “where you share reasons why you are a strong employer choice.” Explain how you improve careers. Boast, if you can.

*bPart-time selling roles are underused at a time when working parents prefer greater flexibility and “the younger generations are often holding multiple positions.” Only 2 in 10 respondents acknowledged having part-time sellers on staff.

The advice: Consider adding part-time or “flex” workers and celebrate it.

  • Developing new clients takes time, especially for a new hire without an established book of business to work. But according to the survey, approximately 7 out 10 respondents do not offer a different compensation plan for new hires. Slightly less than half offer only a 90-day guarantee which “can hurt in recruiting as most people are unable to build a list that bills enough to live on within that short of a time.”

The advice: Consider extended “security periods” when hiring new sellers. And, consider a different plan for new hires. Implement “non-revenue” incentives, such as completing training, conducting cold calls, mastering the advertising computer system, or meeting a goal of creating a certain number of sales proposals.

In her presentation during America’s Newspapers Pivot 2020 virtual conference, Kahn did a good job of loading up newspapers with actions aimed a creating stronger sales team.

Among the recommendations:

  • Know what the competition in your market pays to sharpen your comp-tologist decisions. Also, factor salaries at other sales organizations. (Check out Kahn’s comparison charts.) “Review perks, practices and gather feedback on suggested changes.”
  • Create a pipeline of prospects and spend each day building relationships. Go beyond just seeking media experience. Expand your search to other industries where selling is important.
  • Take the mystery out of the job. Put more details into job profiles. Be transparent. Update the newspaper’s policies and practice to reflect changes like working remotely.
  • Craft stronger messages on how you help clients and community. Share them on social media, your career page and during the interviews. Inspire.

The collaboration that powered what will be an annual study pays homage to the legacy of the surveys of newspaper salaries that the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association and Inland Press Association used to produce. America’s Newspapers is the result of a merger of SNPA and Inland.

This year’s study, which was conducted during the summer, also dealt with the heart of talent when it asked for what motivates sellers to work at newspapers.

Two reasons tied for No. 1: helping clients succeed and earning potential. Company reputation was next, followed by “love of the industry.”

Is it any surprise that when it comes to a motivated seller, love is secondary to making money?

Sell, sell, sell.


Now’s Not The Time For Newspapers To Be Shy

You can’t overuse the Relevant wish, “Have a good week.”

Not now.

We’ll need it as Election “week” (or, gulp, weeks) allegedly starts tomorrow.

The aspiration extends to all newsroom at community newspapers trying to figure out elections results with the unprecedented volume of voting that occurred before Nov. 3.

Just who will make sure we know whether all of the ballots have been counted? Thank goodness for journalists.

“Unprecedented times” was the headline atop a column by Ramona Ferguson, the president of the Texas Press Association. Ferguson is the publisher and editor of The Banner Press in Columbus, TX.

Her piece in the Texas Press Messenger asserted the responsibility of newspapers increases around election time. It starts with “making sure our readers have the information about the upcoming election needed to make informed choices.”

To Ferguson, the newspaper industry has just as much at stake with this election as the nation and states do. She then listed a series of Relevant Points that every publisher and editor should press with gusto. They are worth repeating for wider inspection by press associations:

*Don’t ignore problems at the post office:
Keep asking the federal candidates and officials “what they will do to ensure the post office is still around to continue getting our papers to our readers in a timely fashion.”

*Stay focused on public notices attacks:
Ask state legislative candidates for help on stopping “the erosion of public notices” that has gone on in Texas and other states for years. I would add help them to see the benefits of being a champion of transparency. The next election might even be easier.

*Educate candidates and officials on issues importance to our industry:
Don’t assume they know. Heck, studies show a high percentage of readers don’t know either.
I would prepare a summary of key points to discuss — even make a fancy handout that can be posted online — just as you would expect a candidate to do in carrying out a spirited campaign. Make it a point to check in regularly with your elected officials, even if there’s no crisis or call to action to discuss. Build strong relationships.

*Be vigilant about new taxes on newspapers, as states look for dollars in a down economy:
“There will be a budget shortfall next session. That usually means lawmakers considering the option of including more products and services on the sales tax list. We’ve got to make sure they know that we don’t want to see a sales tax on newspapers sales in this state, and that we are paying attention.”
Also watch for proposed taxes on advertising sales and “services.”

*Push back on efforts to weaken public information laws:
What will federal and state lawmakers “do to protect our right to free access to information from our government bodies?” My tag-on suggestion: Report to readers the proponents and opponents, and stay on those who think the public doesn’t need to know.

*Let readers know that by protecting newspapers, you’re protecting them and trying “to make sure we are around for another generation to provide news and information to those readers”:
We protect the public by providing valid information. That’s a powerful statement. “Don’t be shy about letting your readers know you asked candidates about what they will do to protect the post office, to protect newspapers from sales tax, or to protect FOIA laws.”

Association executive directors and board presidents provide an indispensable service to their newspapers — and the public — when they use their qualified voices to advocate for community journalism, the vital role it plays, and our overall industry that needs all the friends it can count on.

Commentaries like Ferguson’s monthly column should continue to educate with specifics on what’s at stake. This is indeed a time to be smart about asking for support but never assuming there’s a better way to earn respect and trust.

I made the Relevant Point in my National Newspaper Week commentary that citizens should vote for newspapers this Election Day and continue to engage their local publishers, editors and reporters on issues of importance.

Ferguson agrees.

“Let’s work together,” her commentary concludes, “to ensure that our lawmakers and readers know this election is important to your local community newspapers.”

In these times, every day is an election for newspapers. Have a good one.


Senate Report Goes To Bat For Local News; Who’s On Deck?

Most days it feels as if the local news industry has no friends in Washington.

We get battered but get up. We confront “fake news” rants with trusted journalism. And we dig for revenue while the technology giants soak up the great majority of the digital dollars.

This week, local news discovered an ally in Congress who understands newspapers’ dire challenges and makes the excellent case for help.

Our friend is from Washington, state that is.

Press associations should use Sen. Maria Cantwell’s report, “Local Journalism: America’s Most Trusted News Sources Threatened,” to recharge their crucial advocacy.

Download the report here.

It was released ahead of yesterday’s (Oct. 29) Halloween-week appearances by the chiefs of Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc. (Google and YouTube) before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Cantwell is a ranking member.

As caretakers of local journalism and community newspapers, press associations and their members will not be shocked by anything in Cantwell’s official report. Rather, we should revel there’s a definitive record and a call to action that publishers and association leaders can reference when working with legislators — as well supporters and readers.

One of the report’s urgent points is that the public still doesn’t realize the degree to which local news is threatened, or near collapse in some communities.

“These market dynamics are further compounded by a lack of public awareness of the crisis facing local journalism. A recent pool found that 71 percent of Americans believe their local news media is ‘doing well financially,’” the report stated.

Associations would be wise to ensure its members have a copy of Cantwell’s Senate report. (I already spotted some newsletters including a mention and a link.)

Also, our lobbyists should deliver copies to state legislators so they’re aware as well. The report’s Relevant Points apply as state legislatures are additional forums for solutions to be hatched. We all know about the ongoing public notices battles.

If I were still a publisher, I’d consider reprinting the report as a series, with local sidebars about my market.

The history and current state of local journalism come in four chapters:

  • The Key to Public Trust and an Informed Citizenry
  • The Difficult Transition to Digital
  • How Local Journalism Faces Unfair Practices from Online Platforms
  • A Trusted Brand Adapting to the Digital Age

I read the 67-page report (it was a rainy day) and here is a sample of quotes that can be used in campaigns to keep awareness and understanding high on what we face in providing local news. (Look for some of these on the Revenue Resource page in the weeks ahead.)

The first sentence is a good start:
“Local journalism is essential for healthy communities, competitive marketplaces, and a thriving democracy.”

And here’s the problem:
“Unfortunately, the local news industry is being decimated in the digital age. This is due to both to the rapid proliferation of online news content as well as unfair market practices by some of the world’s largest technology companies that reuse local news’ content, data, customers, and advertisers.”

There’s time to help, but…:
“While the value of local journalism as a trusted brand is starting to shine through to advertisers, the economic downtown due to the COVID-19 pandemic is endangering what is left of local journalism.”

And the wake-up call:
“If Americans are to continue to receive the benefits of local journalism — transparency, fact-checking, professional editing, and high-quality and timely reporting that promotes vibrant, cohesive, and diverse communities — local news needs help to to survive the current economic storm.”

The report ends with “Congressional considerations.” It cites three either current or suggested congressional options to save local news:

Providing COVID-19 Emergency Financial Relief: “Congress should renew the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to continue to support jobs at local news outlets. It should also expand the PPP to make thousands more local newspapers, radio, and television broadcasters eligible for emergency federal support. Congress should also consider targeted tax incentives and grants as at least a short-term bridge to enable local news entities to survive the current economic turmoil.”

Ensure Fair Return for Local News Content:
“Congress should consider requiring that news aggregation platforms enter into good faith negotiations with local news organizations and pay them fair market value for their content. Congress should also consider allowing local news organizations for a limited duration to collectively bargain for reuse of their content, provided there are strong controls in place to ensure that smaller publishers are not left behind.”

Level the Playing Field for Local News:
“Congress has a long history of addressing market abuses that stifle innovation and harm consumers. Rules preventing unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices can stop platforms from taking local news content without financial payment and retaliations against local news by hiding or removing their content from search engines or social media feeds.

Similarly, statues that prohibit market manipulation in other industries can serve as models to ensure online advertising markets are transparent and not contrived to benefit a dominant firm. Federal privacy protections can also serve to empower consumers to provide more support to local news organizations that provide them with more trusted and relevant information.

“Each of these changes should be crafted in a way to promote competition and consumer welfare and spur growth and innovation in the digital economy.”

By now, you’re probably looking for a suggested closer to any discussion about the state of local news.

The report’s last paragraph is a bottom line to consider:

“When local newspapers and broadcasters shutter, entire cities are left wanting, and an important long-term relationship of trust and community spirit is lost.”

Here’s to more friends.


A Move To Make: Throughout-The-Year Vendor Programs

What publisher wouldn’t be attracted to an invitation that said “5 Revenue Ideas In 50 Minutes”?

In a weird way, what made this offer even more inviting was someone didn’t insert GREAT between the 5 and Revenue.

Truth in advertising, you know.

So I turned in.

It turned out to be a series of 10-minute presentations by companies selling products and services to news media operators.


As someone who helped organize conferences that depended on vendors for the association to make its event budget, I have huge empathy and admiration for entrepreneurs who advance our industry.

So I stayed, and I’m glad I did. There’s a Relevant idea here for state and provincial newspaper/press associations.

Conventional thinking has us setting aside space and time for vendors at annual conventions. In exchange for sponsorship dollars, these supporters get a cheer, their logo on a slide somewhere, and then a scheduled slot to pitch. And, of course, encouragement peppers attendees to visit booths in the exhibition area.
But 2020 is a virtual world.

Change that thinking and reward those sponsors over the full year with various webinars or Zoom conferences where your members get a chance to understand the return on investment in hiring companies packing an effective product or service. (Does anyone have time for cold calls these days?)

Keep the conversation short, focused on immediate returns and open for further exploration.

Yesterday’s (Oct. 27) program by LION Publishers featured five smart companies selling digital solutions — just what you would expect from an association that represents independent online news publishers.

One explained how it’s a bridge between local media and bigger national and regional advertisers. (We’re hearing more and more about this Relevant Trend.)

Another detailed its process of turning text ads into an online marketplace. Power to design and packaging. Enjoyed the slides on how tech giants are not to be trusted.

A third focused on a self-service that allowed a publisher to make money on paid content such as obituaries, business announcements and milestones. The vendor did it all, from proofing to processing payments.

Another detailed how its new product does a better job of pulling in quality programmatic advertising at good prices. It also disclosed it was working with the Patch network.

And a fifth closed out with a turnkey product that pulls in advertisers’ social media posts and displays them on the publishers’ web sites for added exposure. Options abound.

The passionate entrepreneurs hung around for questions, which allowed them to offer additional advice.

The hour flew by.

(Note: For a monetary contribution to The Relevance Project, I’d be happy to mention the companies by name!)

The potential lessons to press associations?


  • *Rethink how you showcase the vendors and sponsors who support you.
  • *Rather than make the sponsorship one (the annual convention) and done, treat it as a yearlong engagement. You might even earn a higher fee.
  • *Sprinkle informative programs throughout the year now that you have earned virtual chops.
  • *View these vendors as “idea hubs” and invite member newspapers that have a particular problem to solve or a business thirst to quench.
  • *Limit the infomercial to one product. Keep the talking short, share the visuals and stay on the solution.
  • *Format these webinars to save your newspapers time and effort in figuring out paths to victories.
  • *Increase your value as the organizer of a “leads list” of companies with products that make your members money and further transform newspapers.
  • *For an added fee, offer to keep the vendor’s information on your association’s web site. Make it dynamic.

The upshot:

Do more to be THE connector.

In 2020, conventional thinking is like running in place.

Or talking while your screen is muted.


It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s… Content Marketing!

Before the Great Recession, fascinating stories that drew interest in Main Street businesses, the largest employers and mom-and-pop enterprises were written by the local newspaper.

The business news staff was large enough to fill pages with developments, profiles, features and updates about companies, entrepreneurs and all sorts of drivers of the local economy.

In turn, business operators knew a favorable local story was a gift from Heaven as it raised brand visibility, boosted employee morale, and even resulted in new sales from curious readers.

It was akin to receiving the seal of approval from the community.

Heck, the businesses didn’t even have to advertise. (It was OK if they did!)

A local story was all they needed.

Those were the days.

Now, business news staffs have been cut back, some wiped out; too many newspapers don’t even have a local business beat.

Hungry for attention, companies and local proprietors are encouraged to buy an ad. Sorry, no more “free publicity.”

Little by little, newspapers started to expand beyond print advertorials into a revenue concept called native advertising. Later, it was called sponsored content, especially when it appeared on the newspaper’s web site.

In this arrangement, a business or organization paid for an article, an “ask the experts” piece, a page of agreed-upon content, or a section about an industry or service. The newspaper was supposed to apply a label so readers knew it wasn’t “news.” Paid content could appear in print, online, or both.

Remember this ditty:

You can call it native advertising.

You can call it sponsored content.

And you call it branded content.

But just so you don’t call it a story from the newsroom.

We’ll pause now for an important update.

Branded content is now big business, championed by an initiative called, what else, The Branded Content Project.

Today (Oct. 27), the project announced a new umbrella term for getting paid to write stories and distribute information about commercial clients:

Content Marketing.

The Branded Content Project also did the newspaper industry a big favor by putting the latest trends, forecasts and spending estimates in a comprehensive report. “Sizing The Content Marketing Opportunity” targets a “conservative” $63.3 billion in spending this year.

Compiling the data was Borrell Associates Inc., in collaboration with The Branded Content Project, Local Media Consortium, Local Media Association and Facebook Journalism Project.

You can read an E&P summary here.

Newspapers scratching for revenue should examine these important trends and its ramifications to tap into clients’ marketing budgets, which unlike advertising spending are expected to increase next year.

The report nicely notes the “16 key business categories (out of 100 total) to be the biggest spenders.” Health and medical businesses, financial and banking institutions, universities, museums, and child-care services dominate the list.

“All are thirsty to educate potential customers and use their content-rich businesses to achieve what is at the crux of any Content Marketing starting,” the report added. “Attention, and being seen as an expert in the field.”

Borrell and The Branded Content Project rank the business categories with grades that range from an A — most likely to use content marketing — to an F — least likely. The report also presents two pages of charts listing Content Marketing expenditures by business type.

As my grandfather the hunter might have said, even a blind squirrel could find a few tasty acorns here.

This is not a print play. The report asserts the big dollars for Content Marketing are spent on digital, which in 2020 commands about a 66 percent share of all content marketing dollars and even tops newspapers when all media are ranked by revenue shares.

“It should be no surprise that digital platforms are the biggest market. Their flexibility across multiple formats (digital, audio, text, etc.) and their interactivity are attractive to buyers,” the report stated. “But the real driving force is digital’s ability to ‘go deep’ on content without added expense of buying more airtime or print space. Digitally placed Content Marketing accounts for two-thirds of all spending. The next-largest media categories are television and direct mail.”

To read the full report click here.

When it comes to Content Marketing, there’s a lot going on.

Branded content is turning up this year in industry conferences about revenue growth. Other recent programs by media associations have featured initiatives where separate web sites or brands were created to handle this type of content. One is FWD>DFW, “a forum that connects companies, causes and the community to issues that impact short- and long-term economic advancement of North Texas.”

The Branded Content Project report doesn’t detail tactics on what’s the best way to display paid-for stories but stay close to this initiative for the full lessons.

My advice to newspapers: When in doubt, go overboard on transparency to continue separating or distinguishing journalism from paid-source material.

Rest assured this step won’t prevent you from cashing in on the big money from marketers who benefit from being in front of newspapers’ readers with disposable income to spend.

Inspiration can be found in plenty of places in the report. If you need an additional call to action, here it is:

“Competition aside, (local media companies would) be well advised to join this movement. Their expertise in storytelling and mastery of media distribution represents a strategic competitive advantage over the boutique content shops that have sprouted across the country.

Thank you, Branded Content Project and Borrell Associates, for making the Relevant Point.
Newspapers and press associations, go forth and sell.


Newspapers Raise Their IQ With Strategic Newsletters

One in a series about Relevant Trends.

Newsletters are a newspaper’s best friend.

They can be reliable, flexible, supportive, interesting and, depending on the situation, an uplifting personality to hang around.

Presenters at this year’s virtual conferences and conventions continue to tout newsletters as success stories for first attracting audiences and eventually generating revenue.

They’re heralded as comparatively low-risk launching pads for newsrooms willing to prospect for new readers or launch an expansion into another market.

Staffs also can’t lose as newsletters offer invaluable lessons about digital audiences, even if the printed newspaper is thriving.

Do, learn and keep improving is the advice.

As I mentioned in last week’s Relevant overview of topics being discussed at 2020’s workshops and webinars, the newspaper IQ goes up with each newsletter that connects with an engaged audience.

I got the impression from some of the presenters that a newspaper without newsletters is stupid media.

My comeback to that statement is industry programs could spend more time explaining the nuts and bolts of creating an excellent newsletter, with the understanding that not every newspaper has a marketing, research or digital staff.

Start with a provocative statement — here’s why you need to invest a full-time position to produce newsletters — and then show how the investment more than pays for itself. Walk through the steps and then the decisions as well as considerations that fuel progress.

Maybe that’s where the vendors and consultants come in.

I have a bunch of notes about newsletters from the various workshops. As your faithful scribe, I offer these Relevant Points on what gurus and innovators are saying and doing about newsletters:

  • *Overall, newsletters cast newspaper operators into two camps: those thinking about the future and those comfortable with the past. Now’s the time, nonetheless. Newspapers in the former camp use newsletters to thump for business and to showcase local reporting to more readers. Those in the latter group are all in on newspapers while the rest of the world goes mobile. Note: A legitimate excuse might be rural areas without reliable broadband.
  • *Be aware that new competitors and future upstarts bank on newsletters or at least include them in their product mix. Go ahead and beat them to the punch. By the way, they’re not thinking print.
  • *COVID-19 prompted a flurry of new newsletters devoted to news and information about the local impacts of the pandemic. One newspaper, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, even used two different weekly CVOID newsletters — one drove digital activation (registering to obtain digital access) and the other drove digital awareness (press the point that a print subscription includes unlimited digital).
  • *Newsletters pump up newsrooms. In the case of COVID reporting, it’s become a pride factor with newspapers pointing to the newsletters as its extraordinary response to the unprecedented events of 2020. These newsletters also pump up advertising staffs who share in the pride of showcasing outstanding coverage. One ad director said it inspired her staff to work harder to find new revenue.
  • *COVID made us even more reliant on mobile delivery. Consider these headlines on slides from a digital advertising presentation: “The Pandemic Gave Social Media an Unexpected Boost.” And: “Users Will Spend 82 Minutes Per Day This Year, up 6 Minutes.” Watch the trends and data.
  • *Innovation via newsletters is coming from established companies trying to find new business or seeking to capture an opportunity involving an underserved community or unmet information needs. It’s also coming from laid-off journalists who have set off on their own to produce specialty topic newsletters.
  • *Investors these days are more apt to support a digital idea, than a print concept. So, start with a newsletter and think some more.
  • *Nearly every push into digital subscriptions includes newsletters to help prospect for new paying customers.
  • *Newsletters are a neat way to repackage the best-of-news coverage to share with those occasional readers that newspapers are trying to move to become subscribers. Don’t assume they’ve seen your best journalism. You get another chance with a newsletter.
  • *Newspapers can prompt readers who sample the web site with a newsletter offer — start with a free “Top Stories of the Week” product. By getting an email address, you also gain a potential subscriber. It’s up to you to close the deal.
  • *Another workshop featured a newspaper with two different newsletters — one for subscribers and one for non-subscribers. Treating them differently allowed the subscriber product to be complimentary to the newspaper and its web site, while permitting the non-subscriber newsletter to include more marketing information about the value of being a subscriber and why a subscription is a great investment.
  • *Many presenters noted that people still want local news. Phew. But, they added, a newsletter shows the newspaper is changing to adapt to how readers consume news, instead of dictating how they should get it.
  • *A digital advertising workshop included newsletters in this accompanying list of benefits: increasing a newspaper’s brand awareness, driving more sales, targeting a specific audience, and improving on how to measure results to win additional business.
  • Besides, more buying decisions are being made online. “When we’re scrolling,” said a presenter, “we’re shopping.”

Throughout all of the presentations it was assumed that a newspaper would naturally have a newsletter or two.

In other words, a newspaper without a newsletter is like a newspaper without a web site.

We’ll leave it there.


Oh, Canada, We Cheer Your SPOT Fake News Campaign

Canada promotes a campaign to help readers spot fake news online and it surpassed expectations during the first year of rooting out evil.

Is that real or fake news?

Time’s up.


See for yourself at

Newspaper Association Managers President Steve Nixon, executive director of the Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association, mentioned the Canadian effort on our Relevance Project call this week and I was impressed by the site’s clear message on how everyone can spot fake news and, more importantly, stop it.

The drill, according to its creators, is to ask four questions when you SPOT or suspect questionable news and information online:

S: Is this a credible Source? Check the source of the article and be skeptical.

P: Is the Perspective biased? Think critically and look for varying viewpoints on an issue.

O: Are Other sources reporting the same story? Be your own fact-checker and verify the validity of the story.

T: Is the story Timely? Check the date the story was published. “Sometimes, stories use old information to take advantage of a timely occurrence.”

I asked the campaign’s organizer, News Media Canada, what’s been the result of the media literacy tool. Director of Marketing and Research Kelly Levson responded quickly with an overview as well as with details on how the campaign performed against its target goals.

“We originally launched SPOT in advance of the 2019 federal election amidst growing concern over disinformation and fake news being spread online,” Levson told me in an email.

“We developed an animated video that outlines the four simple steps that spell out SPOT. To communicate the details of the simple media literacy tool the program was supported by an ad campaign in Canadian newspapers as well as a paid YouTube campaign.”

Levson added the program was financed in part by the Canadian government — hear that, Congress! — and “we had some clear deliverables to achieve as part of our agreement.”

The accompanying results are as of March:

Target: 150,000 video views within six months of launch.
Delivered: 250,487 video views (as of Nov. 30, 2019); 395,865 views (by March 16) six months after launch.

Target: 250 participating newspapers in launch/small-space print ad campaign.
Delivered: 375 participating newspapers (daily/community).

Target: 300 downloads of member toolkit and creative material within six months of project start.
Delivered: 506 full page launch ad downloads.

Target: MRP rating of 2 million to 4 million impressions (exposures) nationally.
Delivered: 5,957,299 impressions (reach) from national media coverage (MRP), plus 7,642,000 reach from the press release. Total coverage reach of 13,569,299.

“The site and the video continue to live on and we have plans to make some minor updates to the site copy to reflect the current pandemic,” Levson added.

When it launched the campaign, News Media Canada focused on addressing an alarming statistic about fake news.

“We know that so-called fake news, and the spread of disinformation online are very real concerns for Canadians,” said John Hinds, President and CEO of News Media Canada. “According to an Ipsos-Reid study, 63 per cent of Canadians have trouble distinguishing between legitimate news websites and fake news stories. We developed ‘SPOT’ to provide Canadians with a simple, easy-to-remember tool they can use anytime they’re consuming news online.”

American press associations can learn from the Canadian program, and amplify it based on the needs of its member newspaper. This week, for example, the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association released to its members an article on how to identify fake news.

The SPOT campaign also fits the Relevance Project’s advocacy for using the Community Forum strategy to advance media literacy.

In its material, News Media Canada describes itself as an “advocate in public policy for daily and community media outlets and contributes to the ongoing evolution of the news media industry by raising awareness and promoting the benefits of news media across all platforms.”

As we close in on Election Day, Hinds’ words also resonated with many of us who advocate for trusted journalism produced by community newspapers.

“The term fake news is often used incorrectly, to discredit or dismiss information that people don’t like or agree with,” Hinds said in his statement.

“SPOT Fake News Online is intended to help build citizens’ critical thinking and preparedness and increase their resiliency to disinformation.”