New Drive section is wrapped around Friday edition of newspaper

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Sean Ireland
A South Carolina newspaper's renewed focus on working with local auto dealers has quickly developed into a road map leading toward good results for both of them.

The Independent Mail, a daily located in northwestern South Carolina (Anderson), introduced a special weekly automotive section in September that area dealers are crediting with helping them sell more cars, and it's also turning around what had been a lagging automotive category for The Independent Mail.

Called Drive, the new section is wrapped around the Friday edition of the paper and gives advertisers premium positions for the advertising they can buy in it. Drive was backed by a promotional campaign with readers before its rollout in September, and plans are for it to expand with more local content as sales keep growing.

The idea behind Drive is a simple recommitment by a newspaper to do what newspapers do better than other types of media: connect local businesses with local consumers in relationships that benefit both.

"We had some local dealers that had switched [their advertising dollars] to broadcast," said Susan Kelly-Gilbert, publisher of The Independent Mail. "We knew that in the industry things had picked up, with consumers more willing to buy cars. We wanted to do something that helped dealers with their business and that helped our business, and, first and foremost, helped consumers."

In about 30 days, The Independent Mail began a campaign that focused on explaining to readers the advantages of buying a car now. It also put together testimonials from some of its auto-dealer advertisers explaining how newspaper advertising was working to help them sell cars. Finally, the paper promoted Drive directly to consumers.

Ad packages in Drive include full and half pages. The ads are repeated as ROP in the regular Saturday edition of the paper, and all of the cars are also online at www.independentmail.com with photos and sound. Depending on the auto dealer's commitment, the paper also includes a set number of line ads for seven days in its classified section.

The paper presented Drive as "a new standalone section that hadn't been done before or at least done here in a very long time," Kelly-Gilbert said. "It would have premium position on Fridays. It would build off their Saturday ads and was jam-packed with value with the online piece and the value-added liner ads. It's a great value for advertisers."

"The Independent Mail is an oversized tabloid, and Drive is a broadsheet, so they are getting more space for practically the same rate – for a little more money, they are getting a lot more space."

The paper is requiring 13-week or 26-week buys for access to Drive. The strategy works two-fold: research suggests that consistent advertising will get more results for the dealers and the flexibility allowed the paper to more easily win back advertisers that had moved some of their buys to broadcast advertising.

The Independent Mail sold space in Drive to five or six dealers initially, and has added more over time, including some new advertisers and ones that had left the newspaper. It's turned around the paper's automotive category, which had been down year over year, but is now seeing a significant weekly lift in revenue.

Drive made its debut in early September. The first section featured a single syndicated column of car advice. The rest of the four-page broadsheet had full- and half-page ads from local dealers. "The thing that makes this outstanding is wrapping the Friday paper in the section – it's premium placement," Kelly-Gilbert said.

In the weeks since, editorial content has expanded to include a car review and a local feature written by one of the paper's reporters, Mike McMillan, who also writes the Motor Mouth blog on the newspaper's website. The stories focus on exotic cars, local car shows and other related local content.

Kelly-Gilbert said that local dealers in the section have credited an increase in sales to Drive and the paper's promotional push. Combined, they've put the newspaper at the forefront of the marketing plans of local dealers. "We were never out of their offices. It's just that we weren't in them with the level of frequency that we needed to be," Kelly-Gilbert said. "This section allowed us to get back in front of them with new ideas to grow their businesses, and if they haven't signed on with it yet, it's a reason to go back in."

For more information contact Susan Kelly-Gilbert at (864) 224-4321.


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