What's for Lunch?

A textbook example of how weekly papers can make a daily impact


Sean Ireland
A growing number of newspaper publishers are warming to the idea that a newspaper is not just a product printed daily or weekly on a roll of newsprint and delivered to subscriber driveways and doorsteps.

While their organizations may have been born from the clattering of typewriters and the hum of a press, many publishers are escaping the notion that they must be measured by column inches sold and paid for by subscribers. Today, as the ideas of audience and content delivery become more important, the realization is that a newspaper can sell advertising on just about any platform that draws a desirable audience’s eyeballs.

The Shelby County Reporter of Columbiana, Ala., is providing a textbook example of how a weekly newspaper can make a daily impact by producing content and delivering it electronically.

About 12 months ago, the Reporter and its sister papers, the Alabaster Reporter and the Pelham Reporter, began sending daily 6 a.m. e-mail news reports to their readers. All together, the weekday e-mails from the Reporter, the Alabaster Reporter and the Pelham Reporter now reach their database of more than 25,000 e-mail addresses.

“The idea came as a result of our searching for a method to leverage the content we create each day in a way that would resonate with our readers,” said Tim Prince, president and publisher of the Reporter. “The daily e-mail has turned out to be that and more.”

The three newspapers have an average weekly circulation of 33,000 and growing, and many of those print subscribers also have signed up to receive the daily e-mails, attracted by a marketing campaign or word of mouth. “Others have been added by staff members seeking to share what we do with customers or target customers; in the print vernacular, we would call that sampling,” Prince said.

“Our focus is total audience rather than paid circulation. We seek to create compelling content online and in print, and in so doing, we have an audience that is marketable to advertisers.”

For Prince and the Reporter, selling advertising for the daily e-mail report is much like selling a print ad. “[We approach it] no differently than we would any other special project – set a goal, track progress toward the goal, correct the approach as needed and celebrate success. Just because it’s a digital platform, our approach doesn’t change. Advertisers have been very pleased. Their goal is to reach a target audience, and the daily e-mails certainly provide a cost-effective manner for them to do so.”

With its daily e-mail report, the Reporter is taking content it has already produced, delivering it more frequently for no extra cost and increasing its revenue opportunities. “The key is to make the daily e-mail’s content compelling – no different than a newspaper or Web site as to importance,” Prince said. “Doing so will serve your community and make the product valuable to potential advertisers.”

The newspapers have repeated the success with a lunchtime message sent by e-mail to their online audience listing lunch specials at local restaurants. Advertisers pay to list their restaurants on the e-mail, sent every weekday at 10:30 a.m. Restaurants are listed by category, such as deli or Italian, and pay more to be at the top of their category. “We launched the service with 10 categories but can add more as needed. Each includes one to five restaurants currently but is growing each week,” Prince said.

The lunch e-mail (like the daily news e-mail) can be accessed by mobile phone, perfect for reaching a business audience on the go – the kind of customer most likely to be looking for a meal out, and therefore, the kind advertisers want to reach.

The Reporter’s success is proving that it’s the marriage of content to the right audience that counts, not what form the content takes. Print is still an important part of the product mix for newspapers, but that’s the key – it’s a part of the mix, no longer the sole emphasis.

“Daily e-mail delivery, particularly as some newspapers are considering printing fewer days, gives your newsroom a daily delivery vehicle of content; ditto for your advertisers,” Prince said.

For more information, contact Tim Prince at (205) 669-3131.

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