What You Should Know Before You Place A Small Town Newspaper Ad

by Tom Egelhoff

Author Tom EgelhoffIn many small towns, the newspaper may be the only available form of advertising media.

And, if you're like most most small business owners, you don't have an unlimited advertising budget.

So, if you decide to use the newspaper to get your message out, it's very important that the advertising decision you make returns the results you desire at a cost you can afford.

Learn The Small Town Newspaper Terminology Going In

Every industry has it's own language. The problem is that if you don't work in that industry the terminology might as well be a foreign language.

Industry terms accomplish two important things for the businesses that use them. One is good, the other is bad.

The good part is that reputable businesses don't want to confuse the customer. They want to demonstrate knowledge and educate the customer in the language so the customer has a clear understanding of the benefits being offered by the product or service.

This education of the customer arms them with the ability to spot the unscrupulous business person.

The bad part is that some businesses use industry jargon to make the customer feel uncomfortable by asking for clarification of the terms.

They also use the customers lack of knowledge to jack up the price of the products or services.

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What Are The Things You Need to Know?

The newspaper measuring system: Probably one of the most confusing parts of newspaper advertising is their measuring system.

You may have heard the term, "column inch." You might suppose that a column inch is one inch wide or tall. You would be wrong on both counts.

Here's how it works. First I must explain the units of measure that newspapers use. Even though they call them column inches only part of the measurements are in inches.

Newspapers use three units of measure. "Picas", "Points" and "Inches." They are carry overs from the days of manual typesetting. Let me define each one.

  • Pica - One pica is one sixth of an inch. Six picas = 1 Inch
  • Point - There are 12 points in a pica. Six picas X 12 points = 72 Points. On your word processor - 72 pt type is 1", 36 pt type is 1/2", 18 pt type is 1/4", 9 pt type is 1/8". The most common typing size 12 pt type is....? Can you figure it out from the above information. (The above measurements may vary from typeface to typeface but should be pretty close most of the time.)
  • Inch - For those of you on the metric system, we're sorry. An inch is an inch only in America and newspapers.

To make it even more confusing newspapers have an unusual way of writing these measurements. For example: 1p would be one pica, 6p3 would be six picas 3 points.

The points will never be more than 11. If they go to twelve we have another pica.

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You've Got To Know What You're Buying

Before you can evaluate ad space you must be able to visualize how big it really is on the page and is the cost worth it.

OK! Try and stay with me here because this is were it really gets complicated. As mentioned above the common term is "column inches."

The confusing point is that newspapers use points and picas for width and common inches for height and call them both "inches" or "column inches" when they are not.

They're not trying to be deceptive, they have been stuck with these measurements for centuries. Almost since printing began.

Here is the rule. The number of columns (in points/picas), times the height of the ad in inches = Total column inches.

For example: 2 columns x 3 inches = 6 column inches. OK? How big is this ad? If you said six square inches (2" x 3") you would be mistaken. It is actually approximately 12 square inches. Huh???? How did that happen?

Here's how: Newspapers are usually 6 columns wide (again, this may vary from paper to paper based on its physical page size). Classified ads may jump to 9 columns per page.

Columns are most commonly measured in 12p (12 pica width). What is a pica? 6 picas=1" remember? So, a 12p (12 pica) column is actually 2" wide.

So, two columns would be approximately 4" wide, not two. 4x3 equals 12 square inches.

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Here Is How Newspapers Usually Measure Columns

Some common newspaper ad measurements in width:

One column (wide) - 12p (12 picas) = 2" wide
Two columns (wide) - 25p (25 picas, not 24, that would be too easy) = 4.25" wide
Three columns (wide) - 38p6 (38 picas, 6 points) = 6.4375" wide
Four columns (wide) - 51p6 (51 picas, 6 points) = 8.625" wide
Five columns (wide) - 64p9 (64 picas, 9 points) = 10.8125" wide
Six columns (wide) - 78p (78 picas) = 13"

Use these widths times the height you want your ad to be inches to give you the actual size of your ad.

This will give you a better idea if the space is large enough to tell your story or maybe a smaller size would be more economical.

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What Are The Various Ways To Buy Ad Space?

Usually there are two. Either you commit to spending a specified dollar amount over a period of time, usually a year, or, by how frequently your ads appear in the paper.

For example: Let's say the newspapers basic cost for a display ad is $7.25 per column inch. So an ad 12p (12 picas wide or two inches) by three inches tall would run $43.50. 2 columns (12p) x 3 inches = 6 column inches x $7.25 per column inch = $43.50.

If you commit to running an ad every week for 52 weeks your per column cost might go down to $5.75 per column inch.

I personally like the first option the best. It has a lot of advantages over the other. First, it allows you to set a yearly advertising budget and use it as you like.

The more you commit to the lower your "column inch" or ad space will cost. If you commit to say $5,000.00 per year ($417 per month) you would pay $5.50 per column inch. It's a saving of only .25¢ per column inch but it ads up over a years time.

What happens if there is a sudden change in your industry and you need to advertise more heavily? You will be able to do it more economically and in larger ads than with a frequency agreement.

You can lock in the price for the entire year with both options if you commit to a year of frequency.

Advertising increases will have no effect on you but could increase costs for your competitor is they are buying ads on a short frequency basis.

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See Your Ad As It Will Actually Be Printed

When you decide to have an ad made the advertising representative will bring you a "proof" of the ad. It is usually your ad on a piece of paper surrounded by white space.

It looks great on paper but how will it look in the paper with other ad and stories next to it?

The best way to tell is to cut your ad out and get a recent copy of the newspaper. Paste your ad over an existing ad of the same size.

How does your ad look on the page? Does it stand out? Is it easy to read? Do you have too much information? Too little?

Is the message lost among the other ads and stories on the page? Sometimes an ad that looks great by itself is horrible in the finished newspaper.

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How To Use Photographs In Small Town Newspapers

Too Dark: A photo in a newspaper in much different from a photo in a magazine. Newsprint absorbs a lot of ink. It reproduces black (the primary color for many years) very well.

The more black there is in a photo the less detail the ink will pick up. For instance, a photo of your building taken in shadow may have great detail in the photo but may look like a big black box when reproduced in the paper.

Too Light: By contrast, light spots in photos receive no ink creating large areas of white with no detail. A photo taken in bright sunlight with a lot of white may be unrecognizable.

Use a Professional: I know you have seen terrible photos in newspapers. How you and your business looks is critical to the success of your ad. Try to use professional photographers whenever possible. There job is knowing how to use light and contrast to the best advantage.

They will probably suggest black and white film as opposed to the color pictures you would take with your Instamatic.

It may seem like an unnecessary expense when you get the bill, but a good photo can make all the difference between success and failure of your ad.

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Color: Is It Worth It?

In one word, yes it is. Estimates vary but color can improve the response to your ad as much as 40% over a black and white ad.

It doesn't have to be an expensive full color ad. Just a splash of red or green can draw the readers attention.

We see color everywhere in our daily lives. Use it whenever you can.

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Put Emotion In Your Ads

I've said it before and I'll say it again, "When logic and emotion come into conflict, emotion ALWAYS wins."

If you don't believe that, take me down to the grocery store and show me the "mouse flavored" cat food. Maybe the "sparrow flavored" would be easier to find. Isn't that the logical flavor for cats?

The emotional flavors are "Savory Chicken In Cream Sauce."

The features of the product may attract the consumer but the benefits will sell it.

Never run an ad with features only. Every feature must have a benefit for the customer or it's just a waste of ad space.

It makes us "FEEL" (that's an emotion, last time I looked) safer, happier, healthier, or improved in some way.

Generally our life is somehow better with your product than without it. We will trade the money for the product to be better.

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Make Sure You "KEY" Your Ads To Evaluate Them

Key your ad? What does that mean? It simply means that you need some way (a Key) to tell if the person who makes a purchase contacted your business because of your newspaper ad.

The most common key is a coupon. "Bring this coupon in and receive......!!" If you advertise in several area papers then you can key each coupon.

For example: I run a Christmas ad the first week of December in the Bozeman Chronicle,

The Billings Gazette and The High Country Independent Press. My Chronicle might have a small code in the corner of the coupon - BC12/1 - Which means Bozeman Chronicle - First week of Dec.

If I get a lot of coupons from one paper, what does that tell me?

It tells me my target market just might be reading that paper instead of the other two.

I would want to do a couple more tests before I reduce ads though.

But keys can help me evaluate the success or failure of an ad campaign.

Other keys might be: "Mention this ad for free gift", "When you call ask for extension 414." "Ask for Jim the ______expert."

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Cost Per Thousand Or Cost Per Customer

Newspapers and the internet always want to express advertising rates as numbers. Your rate is usually based on a per thousand readership.

Twelve thousand people subscribe to the XYZ Daily Messenger. So what? If they aren't my target market why should I waste my money advertising there.

Suppose you sell feed to farmers. The local paper has 80% of its readership in town, not in the rural areas.

Are you going to sell a lot of feed to townies. Only 20% of this paper are your customers.

Eighty percent of your ad dollar will not reach your market.

You might be better off in some little farm journal that reaches that 20% for a lot less.

How advertising does it take to attract a customer? If I run a $100.00 ad and it produces two customers who spend $35.00 each.... what happened?

My newspaper ad just became an expense not an investment.

On the other hand if it produced 25 customers that spend $35.00 each.... what happened?

My advertising is paying for itself. It is now an investment that makes a return just like a good stock on the stock market.

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Daily/Weekly Small Town Newspaper Strategy

This was last weeks "Tip of the Week." Newspapers have a very good handle on how many papers they sell and how many are read.

In the case of our paper here in Bozeman, MT the biggest selling days are Sunday and Wednesday (food ads). They are also the ones with the most pages.

However, according to the paper itself, Monday is the most read day of the week. It's also the smallest paper of the week with the fewest pages.

Should I be in the most sold or the most read? Which do you think would produce the best results?

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The Last Word On Small Town Newspaper Advertising

As you can see this is a subject with a lot of facets. I could write an entire book on this subject alone. The advertising costs I used above are just estimates.

Costs will vary from place to place and country to country.

There are some real advantages to small town newspaper advertising. Most of all small town newspapers depend more on local ads for their very existence than large city newspapers.

If a big city loses a couple of advertisers it's not a big deal. If a small town newspaper loses a couple of advertisers the paper suddenly gets smaller.

The smaller it gets, the less it's read. Until it isn't there anymore.

I always say a town with a paper, even a bad paper, is better than a town with no paper. So, support your local small town "rag."

You would certainly miss them if they weren't around.

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