Selling in a Down Economy

Selling in a Down Economy


I have a wonderful friend, Claire Chew, who is 91 years old and with a little encouragement he will tell me stories about what is was like when he was growing up. He is very sharp and knows more history than most people. (Of course, he has lived through more history than most people)


I am a little more than half of Claire’s age, but have been in the publishing business long enough to share a story of doing business in the old days.


In 1980, I was a new manager for our group of papers in Michigan and found the economy heading south quickly. Businesses were pulling back on their advertising expenditures. As the early eighties wore on and the economy continued to struggle we began to see businesses close their doors. Car sales had plummeted due to the high interest rates. Mortgages were at 18% interest. Radio stations, car dealerships and all types of retail businesses were beginning to close their doors under the pressure of the high inflation and economic recession. 


I was 27 years old and too optimistic to let something get in the way of our paper’s growth. I looked for the bright side. Most situations present an opportunity if you look hard enough to find them.


While in my early twenties, I had spent three years managing a retail furniture store and knew that all I ever wanted from my advertising expenditure was results. I wanted people to buy furniture. I wasn’t concerned about what media I used just that the money I spent was bringing customers through my front door. I realized that especially in a soft economy that all any business wants from us are results from his advertising expense.


My strategy began while conducting a sales training meeting. I asked the salespeople why they read the newspaper. They answered with the common answers, to keep up with the local news, to know what is going on with people in the community, what is on sale, etc. I asked if they were reading the classified ads. Most agreed that they were reading the classified section even more than in the past (probably job hunting) looking for used cars, furniture, garage sales and “good deals.” Our shopping guide was increasing in line ads. Our salespeople, like our readers, were beginning to search for better buys on everything they purchased.


That was our hook. We convinced our advertisers that readers were looking a little harder for better deals on what they purchased and the readership of our line ads was at an all-time high. In the weak economy, more than ever, our paper was the source for consumers to find the best deals on everything they bought. They were reading the paper more thoroughly looking for the best product and the best price. Line ads and display ad readership were both being read more thoroughly. The result for the advertiser was better readership and more people at their front door.


I should say that this was not simply a story. The readership results were true. The results were not verified by an independent agency but the advertisers verified them. If the results were not there, we could never keep the advertisers spending money on advertising in our papers.


We also began looking at new opportunities for revenue. We began new exciting promotions and special sections that created more readership of our papers, community involvement with our papers and of course, more advertising revenue.


We experienced a true recession in 1980, 1981 and 1982 in Michigan. During that same period, our papers increased in revenues by 21% in 1980, 23% in 1982 and just over 20% in 1982. Three consecutive years of 20% plus growth! Businesses were cutting back on their overall ad budgets but they were pulling money away from our competition and putting everything into our papers. They found we provided results. They were not sure the other media could provide results and were not willing to try them.


We were in the midst of a strong economic recession but found a positive approach with our advertisers. We also created some long-term relationships with businesses that continue 20 years later. Even though it took some convincing on our part, these businesses put their eggs in our basket and we delivered them safely to their front door.


Unfortunately, we never again achieved those large of increases. But, cross your fingers. Maybe a recession will come again soon





Here is a quote to remember:

” If you look for the positive things in life; you will find them.”

Author Unknown



Dave Baragrey is a business consultant and sales trainer for Publishers-Edge, a Special Section syndicate for print and on-line special sections, and Consulting business specifically designed to help newspapers and shopping guides.

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