New approach can turn classifieds back into gold

'Lifestyle' classifieds add 6-8 pages of new print advertising per week in mid-sized market

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Newspapers have to look at classifieds in a new way.

Let's imagine that classifieds were a brand new ad type – a hot new trend, a bandwagon to jump on.

How can this be?

Well, classifieds work well in print and online. They are cheap to produce and highly profitable. They're flexible and can include enhancements like headlines, photos and graphics. They can provide a quick turnaround.

Gee, sounds like a pretty good ad type to me!

If you can clear your mind of all the old ways we think about classifieds and think of them as one of the best ways for small business advertisers to get their message out, suddenly a whole new world appears.

Instead of focusing on the demise of cars, homes and jobs, think of the possibilities of vast underserved categories. Think food, help, home, kids, pets and health.

Each of these is a huge category that is ripe for a fresh approach. Like classifieds! And none of these categories are going to Craigslist (although if we don't hurry, they are already moving to Google and Facebook).

We launched what we call "lifestyle" classifieds at the Times-Herald Record last year and the paper experienced a recurring, 6-8 page jump in print classified advertising which was mostly new business. Combined with a redesign and a series of content upgrades, our multifaceted repositioning of classifieds generated lots of new revenue and even saved newsprint.

There are several secrets to turning the "new" classifieds into an SMB success:

1. These new classifieds run in the features or other targeted sections, adjacent to relevant editorial content.

Many papers already have great niche products right inside the newspaper. These sections are called home, health, food, fitness, business and more. Just as you would for any niche, target small businesses that want that audience. Food, health and home are huge potential categories. People eat three times a day and spend more on food than anything else, except perhaps housing. Don't you want a piece of that market?

2. Don't call them classifieds!

Classifieds have a bad rap. Young people and wealthy people in particular see them as old fashioned or a marketplace for used and cheap things. Not a good environment for a small business at all. Marketplace is okay. In Middletown, we used "Matters" to get the broadest appeal: Food Matters, Health Matters, Home Matters.

3. Simplify the pricing and upsells. Really simplify.

One thing that has killed classifieds is our brain-dead, complex pricing. The offer has to be simple and affordable. Include a solid word limit like 30 or 40 words and a headline. Offer only two or three upsells: an image, a border, maybe color. Better yet, include color so all the images are bright and engaging. (While you are at it, this is what your classified pricing should look like, too.)

4. Make them clean and classy.

If we were inventing a modern new ad type, would we make the type tiny and ugly. I hope not. Make these ads look nice and businesslike, not junky. Don't skimp on the type size, spacing or quality formatting. This is about making small businesses look good.

5. Lock them into contracts.

Since these are weekly ads, you need to lock advertisers in for 4, 12, 24 or 48 week contracts, if possible. Ideally, you can apply a technology (yes, we have some) that would allow these advertisers to create and change their ads each week with ease.

6. Give them a high profile.

Don't bury this new block of growing classified ads. Put them on page 2 or 3 of the appropriate section, give them their own space online and highlight featured business in house ads, in the index or on the section front. It's a new idea, so you've got to sell it.

Bill Ostendorf, president and founder of Creative Circle Media Solutions, is using his editorial, content and design background to bring fresh ideas to advertising and revenue. Bill has redesigned dozens of classified sections and his background as an editor helps him avoid getting caught up in the way we used to sell and package ads. Bill has also led the redesign of the editorial content of more than 500 publications as well has hundreds of media web sites. He is a frequent lecturer on a wide range of media topics. Creative Circle also supplies custom CMS and web revenue software platforms to newspapers. Bill also led the team that designed and built snpa.org. To contact Bill, you can email him or call (401) 455-1555.

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