Out-competing the agencies

Mississippi paper profits from partnership with a local hospital

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When a 5,000 circulation daily can publish a 30,000-copy, 76-page magazine, the paper is doing something right. That paper is the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Miss.

Since 2013, the Enterprise-Journal has published the glossy magazine once a year for its county public hospital, Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center. It brings in more than $60,000 for the paper and tells stories that otherwise might go unreported, according to Editor Jack Ryan.

The 2019 version came out this month and honored the 50th anniversary of a hospital that draws patients from six Mississippi counties and two parishes in neighboring Louisiana. Ryan said that as the local newspaper, the Enterprise-Journal could make a full-service deal with a local institution at less expense than an agency while attracting local business advertising support.

"There really is no downside to it," he said.

The magazine grew out of the need to make up for lost revenue.

"In 2012, the hospital in McComb and a neighboring hospital got involved in a very, very lucrative full-page advertising war. We are talking about multiple full-page ads every Sunday, to the point that we had to add an extra press run," Ryan said.

The Enterprise-Journal, which now publishes Tuesday through Friday, was the happy beneficiary of the advertising war. But it ended after several months, leaving management trying to figure out how to get at least some of that revenue back.

Ryan and the advertising manager sat down with two newspaper sales representatives for a brainstorming session, and the result was the creation of the magazine. "They pay us up front for the stories, the photos, the printing, the distribution, the whole thing," Ryan said. That comes to about $36,000. The paper handles all the advertising and keeps all of that revenue, which comes to about $30,000.

Copies of the magazine are inserted into the newspaper and direct-mailed to two ZIP codes and part of a third. The hospital selects the ZIP codes and also keeps 200 to 300 copies for its own distribution.

Story ideas and some photos come from the hospital's marketing staff in consultation with the paper, and reporters are assigned to the stories. For the 50th anniversary edition, a reporter located a story originally published in 1994 about the political battles surrounding the creation and financing of the hospital in the 1960s. Original sources were no longer living, so the entire story was reprinted.

Another story chronicled how the hospital grew from the original six-story building in which only four stories were used at its 1969 opening,  to twice the original size. A cardiovascular institute, a cancer institute, outpatient surgery, home health and hospice services are among many other specialties that have been added.

"It's been fun just to tell those stories," Ryan said. Advertising support has been strong, and Ryan thinks one reason is the gradual loss of local institutions in smaller towns like McComb, population 13,000.

Other community papers with a hospital can try the same project, Ryan said. It doesn't need to be the same size or with the same distribution, depending on what the hospital wants. Maintaining control of the advertising is the key to generating revenue.

"I would go ask. It doesn't hurt to ask. You're always telling your sales reps not to be afraid to ask. Go talk to the hospital administrator; see if they're interested. They have a great story to tell. They probably have a limited budget. You can tailor your product based on how much they want to spend."

For more information, reach Jack Ryan at publisher@enterprise-journal.com.

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin and is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at jbnicholes@att.net.

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