Beating Covid-19 by ‘listening’

The capacity to “listen” is the indispensable talent for those of us in media. Nothing has driven this reality home with more force than the current corona-virus pandemic. Do you know a good newsroom filled primarily with mere talkers? Quality news content requires a reporter with multiple skills, but primary among them is listening and often “hearing” even the unspoken. And failing ad sales departments are filled with noisy talkers too busy to listen long enough to hear potential customers’ objectives and, yes, objections.

Covid-19 has temporarily decimated advertising revenues — painfully reminding us all that money is the starting point or basis upon which quality, independent journalism depends. The 2008 recession was a wake-up call for savvy publishers with an 18 percent revenue decline for magazines and a whopping 27 percent dollar drop for newspapers.

For those “listening” media managers 2008 sparked a willingness to hear what the market had long been telling us; namely, success belongs to multimedia, multi-platform venues delivering hyper-local editorial and advertising content. While the market for years has been speaking loud and clear — with far too few listening — success now belongs to publishers with large quivers filled with an array of arrows.

In addition to our traditional print products a successful quiver must reach across multimedia platforms providing advertisers with online marketing options including digital E-editions and E-newsletters, analytic reports on page views, click-throughs and impressions. And there is more! Borrowing from successful magazine publishers, newspapers are slowly experimenting with events sponsorships. These events generate participation and thus a sense of “ownership” among both news and adverting consumers.

Throughout my publishing career the most successful team members always have been highly skilled “listeners.” A classic example was a an ad sales rep whom I believe could sell birth control pills to an 80-year old spinster.

During his first call he always made it clear to his prospective advertiser that his mission that day was NOT to sell. Instead, his goal was to listen and learn about the merchant’s products, services and target customers. Then he would go back to his office and craft a detailed promotion package aimed at “ringing” his customer’s cash register. He always crafted packages that included multiple insertions. And often his follow-up visits included sample speck ads. His success started with “listening.” He was a top salesman who fully understood that editorial content was not “that stuff that fills in around the ads.” Rather he understood that advertising gained credibility when sharing pages with local, credible, community journalism.

This Covid-19 crisis has proven that consumers trust is highest primarily with local media — folks close enough to “hear.” But these consumers want critical information more frequently than once a week. Those local newsrooms providing daily digital updates have experienced significant upticks in both online and print subscriptions. And when front street shops reopen it is the media offering multi-venues that will quickly make up for lost time.
This column by Gauger first appeared in Pub Aux, the National Newspaper Association’s industry newspaper and website.


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