Anyone can sell a subscription

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A small newspaper with big team spirit has gained circulation by engaging its employees in friendly competition to sell subscriptions.

In the spring of 2010, the Kentucky New Era in Hopkinsville implemented an "Everybody Sells" promotion. Between 75 and 80 employees from all departments were "drafted" onto teams captained by circulation employees, with a separate competition for carriers.

The result was 260 new subscriptions and more than $9,000 in profit, significant numbers for an 8,000-circulation daily.

Although the promotion more recently has fallen by the wayside amid restructuring, newspaper executives consider it a valuable exercise.

"We just went on the assumption that everybody in the building ought to be a salesperson for our product," said Circulation Manager Tony Henson. "It was an opportunity for the different departments to get to work together as well."

Building employees were drafted by one of four teams which received $5 per new subscription. Each team was required to have members from all departments, so that the level of sales ability and experience was fairly equal. Teams received $150 apiece for expenses.

At the end of the contest, the amount of incentive money "banked" by each team was divided among the members. The champion sales team received an extra incentive. Individual high sellers were eligible for prizes that included a one-week vacation and a flat-screen TV.

Everyone was encouraged to participate, but no one was forced. "We did have some editorial folks that were not real comfortable with doing a promotion like that in the positions that they held. We gave them an opt out," he said.

Teams could use traditional sales techniques but were encouraged to innovate. For example, one team set up a sales location outside a major factory and offered snacks and drinks to workers on their breaks.

Everyone in the competition sold at least one subscription, said Business Manager Sheryl Ellis. "You didn't want to be the only person that didn't sell a subscription."

Consistent motivation, follow-up and camaraderie were keys to the success of "Everybody Sells," Henson said. He especially emphasized the need to have some sort of weekly gathering of the teams to maintain momentum.

Team meals and good-natured fun were part of the competition. For example, on getting wind of a Green team meeting, the Orange team sent along some Orange Crush.

For managers considering a similar promotion, Henson and Ellis said the first year was more successful than the second year in part because the team captains were all circulation employees in the first year. They were experienced sales people who were creative motivators.

The paperwork associated with new subscriptions presented the most difficulty, Henson said.

"Make sure you have plenty of personnel who are keeping up with the statistics and all the paperwork on the sales, because it can get kind of overwhelming at times when you're trying to keep up," he advises. "It probably takes more than one person to really stay on top of it."

Henson said the overall effect of the promotion was an "exponential" increase in sales staff, and a reduction in routine transfers of telephone calls. "Everybody who answered the phone during that period of time became a salesperson for our circulation department."

For more information contact Tony Henson at thenson@kentuckynewera.com or Sheryl Ellis at sellis@kentuckynewera.com.

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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