Creating A Plan For Your Special Sections

Creating a Plan for your Special Sections


Some early year planning can make a difference in your year-end profits

Special Sections can add significant revenue to your publications. Good quality sections improve readership and appeal to new advertisers. They can also make a significant difference in your year-end profit picture. Some solid planning time spent early in the year will pay big dividends at year-end. Following are some quick steps to help plan your special sections.

Review your Special Sections from last year

Take a look at the sections you produced last year. Were you satisfied with them? Have you continued to produce the same sections year after year? That is a good thing if they are continuing to improve in ad linage. If they are dropping in space sold each year it may be time to either discontinue publishing the section or look for a new twist to give the old section some life.

Begin by making a list of each special section you produced during the past year. Create a chart listing the total revenue, cost (include printing, delivery, sales commissions, composition and editorial costs), revenue from new business, total ad space sold and total profit.

Compare these numbers with the same categories from the previous year. Did this section increase or decrease from the previous year? This quick chart makes it fairly obvious if you need to take action on each section or not. If you are seeing increased revenue or profits that is great! If you are seeing decreases then it is time to design a new plan for this section. If the section is unprofitable it may be time to replace this section with something you will make money on. Many papers have found that even a great idea for a special section sometimes “runs its course” and it is time to give it a rest. It may be time to rest a section that is losing steam for a year or two and resurrect it later.

What New Special Sections should you produce

Take a look at the marketplace. What types of new businesses have opened in the past couple of years in your area? Are they advertising with your paper? Do you currently produce Special Section products that target their customers? Would these new advertisers support this new special section? If some of your locally owned retailers have been replaced by chain stores that will not support a section your effort to develop this section may be futile. Are there community events that you can support with a section that will result in good readership and the advertisers will support?

Take a look at what your competition is doing. What special sections are they producing each year? Are they doing a good job with them? Can you do a better job with that section? Are there market segments that neither of you attract with your special sections? What is the size of that market segment? Make a realistic first year projection on a new section to determine if the result would be a 4 page section you could never make any money on or if the results would be a 16 to 24 page section you would be proud to produce.

Ask your salespeople for ideas. Your sales force is going to determine the success of a section. Ask for their input. If a new special section is their idea they will work harder to insure its success. They are the X factor in the results. You can develop a plan for success but they are the ones that have to carryout the plan and deliver the results. If they are convinced that a section will provide great results for the advertisers they will pass that emotion along to their customers. Their attitude toward selling advertising in a special section makes all the difference.


Good Quality Special Sections

The most important consideration when deciding on a new Special Section is the value it has to the advertiser and reader. As a publisher, my ideal special section contains 100% advertising and no unpaid space. Unfortunately, readers don’t always feel the same way. When they spend time reading a section they want some value for the time they spent with your special section. When reading a Home Improvement section they expect to learn something that will improve their home or make improvements easier. They don’t just want to know that Home Depot has decks on sale. However, if they learn the value of adding a deck to their home and how that will improve their lifestyle, they may develop a desire to add a deck to their home. At that point, the sale on decks at Home Depot becomes very important to them. Create the desire with editorial, and then tell them where they can fulfill that desire with the advertising. That is the basic premise in designing a good quality special section targeted at specific readers. That is how you create the added value for a special section and can charge more for advertising space that is targeted at specific readers. I know I am running that thin line of discounting the importance of advertising in a special section so I will restate my point. First, you create the reader’s desire with editorial; next, you fulfill that desire with the advertising.

Make it easy for your salespeople to sell advertising

Generally, salespeople have great social skills and poor organizational skills. (I know, I know, I am typecasting salespeople putting them all into the category of backslapping, handshaking and “Glad to see ya” instead of well disciplined time managers who have their sales calls planned out each week.) When you throw an extra special section into their lap to sell you also should give them some direction on how to sell it and who to sell it to if you expect great results.

The Sales Manager can improve sales results on special sections if they will develop a list of businesses that will be prospective advertisers in each special section. Every paper does a Home Improvement section. Who calls on the building contractors? Who are the local building contractors? Generally, your weekly sales calls do not include every local building contractor. They are not likely to advertise except in a special section like Home Improvement that is targeted at readers who are interested in remodeling or building. Most display salespeople are often tied to the routine of calling on weekly advertisers and will have a difficult time making time to call on the out-of-the-ordinary account unless the sales manager helps identify the non-routine calls to make.

I understand print advertising sales and I know that even your best salespeople have a difficult time selling every special section you produce. They have their best success when they feel confident the section will benefit the advertiser. I have seen the best success when you have written sales scripts you can use in both Display Sales and Telemarketing. This should include common objections salespeople will encounter and ways to overcome those objections. This is Basic Salesmanship 101 but is often overlooked when we sell special sections. If you are planning a new section or have a number of new salespeople, have a kickoff meeting to announce the section and discuss sales scripts and common objections. Of course, this is also a great time to announce or form sales plans and revenue goals along with corresponding rewards.

There are hundreds of different ideas for special sections produced by papers across North America. You can find many ideas through networking with other papers at your state or national newspaper or free paper conferences. Determine which special sections are right for your paper and move forward with a plan to make them successful.


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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