Ledger Week Three: The Ad Conundrum


February 11, 2010

The Center Square Ledger has been officially publishing for
three weeks now and I think we’re starting to get the hang of things. After a
frenetic publishing schedule to show new readers that we’ve got a lot going on,
we slowed down a bit. The slower pace doesn’t seem to have hurt our daily
average readers, which has settled at about 350 a day.

This is a GREAT number from our perspective. Outside of
flyering the neighborhood el stops on our first day and hitting the local blog
scene, we’ve really been growing by word of mouth. 350 a day puts us just over
10k a month, which was the dream scenario Patrick and I had when we talked
about our launch. This is a real number ­- five digits – that you can show
people.

So while traffic is doing well and we seem to be publishing
compelling content, revenues are not what we’d like.

I’ve knocked on about 150 businesses doors in the area and from that I had five people say they wanted to talk advertising. Those five people all suggested I come back in a month or so when I followed up.

The mystery to me has been why. I’m pretty sure our ad pricing is very competitive versus other outlets. I know we are considerably more targeted than other outlets. We have solid readership numbers.

Thus a conundrum: Why don’t people want to advertise with the Ledger?

A few things come to mind:

  • It’s January/February and people don’t want to spend
  • The economy, stupid
  • Web advertising is not physically tangible and thus perceived as less effective
  • Local businesses generally don’t advertise

The first two I can live with. The third requires salesmanship and buyer education. The fourth – well that’s the one that gives me the shivers.

Door knocking does not intimidate me. As a political campaign worker I think I’ve probably knocked on tens of thousands of doors. Probably somewhere in six digits. People have siced their dogs on me, cursed at me, yelled, you name it. As a campaign worker, I know that I have to get through a certain number of doors in order to persuade a certain number of voters.

Eventually you learn a vibe. If you knock on enough doors, you get an intuitive sense if you have a good message. You can tell when, even if the voter doesn’t sign on, you’ve got them thinking.

I’ve had that good vibe at about 25% of my stops. That’s encouraging. But really, I think I need to be reaching out to more people, more often. Mailing postcards keeps coming to mind, but I’m not sure it is cost effective. Besides that, getting contact information is not easy, since no list of local businesses is readily available.  Could I buy one? Probably. But I’m not sure I’m ready to pony up the money considering we have a no cash flow operation.

What we have done is started thinking about ways we can make the Ledger more relevant to businesses. We’ve considered doing a regular print distribution, but the need to create a whole new operations process for that has held us back. We’re looking at doing some special publications, but a fe
w things need to be lined up before we can get that going. We’re also thinking about running an ad special – along with coupons to prove the connection.

Clearly we need to get over a hump with local businesses, the question is how.