Part 1 in a series

Affordable readership research

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Newspapers without marketing directors, research departments or corporate support can still conduct readership surveys that provide valuable information for both the news and advertising departments. It need not take a large budget. The results can enhance credibility and generate revenue.

Over the next few weeks, SNPA will look at ways to do such surveys, results from some papers among the SNPA membership and best practices for making them effective. This series of columns can be expanded if publishers want more information about a particular topic, so please feel free to contact SNPA or the writer with questions or requests.

Research companies abound, from generalists such as SurveyMonkey to independent contractors and research firms with expertise in the newspaper industry. The best way to begin, though, is for the newspaper executive to determine clearly what he or she wants to know and achieve with the survey.

The objectives usually break down into two parts, said Ted Stasney, a retired Media General executive who started Marketing Analytics Insights Consulting Services in the Tampa, Fla., area. On the news side, publishers and editors want to know who is reading what parts of the newspaper or its website with the intention of adjusting news coverage or adding features or services. And the advertising side wants information that can help sell.

Results prove that local newspapers aren't dead.

"We're still finding out that newspapers, whether you're getting it via print or online, are still a very important or primary source for information," Stasney said. "I think you can't forget that. They're really a storehouse of information that consumers can get when they need it.

"That's something we have to keep reminding advertisers who are losing interest in print; print is still an important vital source of producing customers for them as well."

John W. Marling is president of Pulse Research based in Portland, Ore. A former community newspaper publisher, Marling concentrates on newspaper companies; his company has worked with more than 5,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada since 1985. Clients include several SNPA members.

Marling emphasizes the importance of "net reach," as a selling point. It encompasses not just print readership, but a newspaper's website and its use of Facebook, Twitter, email blasts and mobile devices. "I think in general newspapers are getting more aggressive in reaching the community over every single available channel," Marling said.

"And therefore their net reach is growing. That's what I'm very encouraged by. Unfortunately, a lot of the businesses feel that print is dead. There's so much negative press about print – the Internet has destroyed the community newspaper, where the reality is the community newspaper is either stabilized in reach or is growing in their net reach."

Research companies offer specialized products such as Stasney's "Research Director on Demand," (for the publisher who doesn't have one) or Pulse Research's "Ad Seller" profile (which might offer, for example, a product-specific presentation about readers who might buy furniture). SurveyMonkey's website includes generic sample questions that can be adapted to individual needs, for those who want to get a feel for the subject.

Cost effectiveness is on the minds of researchers as well as publishers. Marling argues that one or two new sales over the course of a year may be enough to pay for a Pulse Research survey. Stasney said existing databases put newspapers ahead of the game.

"In a way, newspapers are fortunate because a lot of them have their own database," Stasney said. "And in that database they have the resources of their subscribers and readers, where you could pull a fairly good sample of people who read the paper. And it saves a lot of money."

Learn more:

View a webinar about Pulse Research:

  • General Pulse Research information – go to: http://www.pulseresearch.com/
  • Pulse of America research data is free to papers that promote the survey.
  • Download an example:  one-page sales presentation using the Pulse of America data.  To create a one-page presentation, go to www.pulseresearch.com
    • Enter username: demo
    • Password:  demo
    • Create a presentation

For more information contact John C. Marling at marling@pulseresearch.com or Ted Stasney at tedstasney@gmail.com.

Coming next in this series: Research questions

If your newspaper has conducted a recent readership survey, we hope you will share a copy of your questionnaire with us.  Email a copy to jbnicholes@att.net or cindy@snpa.org.  SNPA's R&D partners also are encouraged to contact Nicholes to share information about the work they are doing with SNPA member newspapers.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a freelance writer and editor based in Daphne, Ala., and a former editorial writer for the Press-Register in Mobile. Email her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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