Building a Great Special Section

It Takes the Right Tools to Build a Great Special Section

By Dave Baragrey


Building a great special section requires more than just a few articles and some ads. It takes great material, preparation, sales training and lots of effort to produce a great special section. Following are some tools to help you build great special sections.


· Interesting Reading Material – As the primary source of information in your community, you have a responsibility to your readers to provide useful information in your special sections. I am stunned when I see good newspapers that work hard to provide good local news coverage fill their special sections with trash.

o No Advertorial - You may be able to create a special section using advertorial and news releases, but if you are trying to build a great special section that will sell year after year, you have to consider the reader. The reader sees through the advertorial style articles that are no more than glorified news releases. They may feel like your paper is duping them when they reach the end of an article and it tells them to contact some manufacturer or business. They depend upon their local paper to provide credible material that is not biased. If you use this material, the source should be clearly identified or labeled near the beginning of the article that it is advertorial.

o Be Informative – Don’t waste your reader’s time. Provide information that they find useful. If they are going to spend 5 minutes of their valuable time to read an article, reward them. Give them something interesting to read.

o Local Articles – Yes, I know this sounds stupid coming from someone who makes their living from syndicated content, but I encourage local papers to remain local by adding a paragraph to some of the pre-written articles. It is a quick and easy way to “localize” any article. This doesn’t need to done to every article, but an article here and there with a local reference helps to localize the content.


· Who will buy advertising in this section? – There is a good question. What sort of revenue can you realistically expect from this section. Would this be better to run as an ROP page or two in the paper for a few consecutive weeks instead of a separate section? Most of the customers who buy our Pet Care section run it as a page in the paper with 10 advertisers for 13 weeks instead of producing a special section. They still generate 13 pages of advertising revenue.

o Make a List – Make a list of the potential primary types of businesses that should be interested in this special section. Then put some names of businesses into this category list. Be sure all of the main characters are covered. 

o Forecast Revenue - Are there any large advertisers on the list? Is the list of prospects a short list? If your list is short and does not include large advertisers, this may be a section left best to your competitors. Using the Pet Care section as an example, most of my customers found themselves with a short list and only small advertisers. Although they knew readership would be great (59% of U.S. households own a dog or cat) the revenues were going to be short. That was why they decided to publish a single page within the paper for a few weeks instead of trying to produce a separate special section. They could sell 10 small advertisers for a 13-week run and still generate significant revenue from a targeted group of smaller advertisers.

o Develop New Business – As a publisher, this was one of my favorite reasons to publish something different as a special section (or page within the paper). I wanted NEW customers. They are the lifeblood of revenue growth. Special sections are one of the primary sales tools to secure new advertisers. They are the tools to open an advertiser’s closed door.


· Show Them the Goods – Pre-design the special section complete with actual articles and photos. Include blank ad spaces. Advertisers like to see the “almost finished” product. The visual aide helps the advertiser select the ad space (suggest a large one). This is a tremendous sales tool to help close more sales. 


· Now What Are They Supposed to Say – Your sales staff is comfortable selling the daily or weekly advertising to their regular clients but selling special sections moves them outside of their comfort zone. Give them some help.

o Opening Statement – The impression that is left by your salesperson is long lasting. Often, the opening statement determines how well the advertising prospect will listen to what the salesperson has to say. Help them develop some startling opening statements. An opening statement should be meaningful and include advertiser benefits and help the prospect visualize the results from advertising in your special section. It should be concise so the prospect can quickly understand the benefit your sales representative is offering.

o Overcome the Common Objections – The salespeople know what objections they are likely to hear. They should be prepared to field those objections and have the answers to overcome them. A lack of confidence when they are selling special sections is the greatest barrier for most of your staff to overcome. They are outside of their comfort zone calling on new accounts; selling ads at different pricing than normal; facing earlier deadlines; explaining the details of the special section. These all move your sales staff into the “discomfort zone.” Planning the answers to overcome the objections builds confidence when selling special sections. Help them develop a list of common objections and design the answers that will lead the prospect to buy advertising. When the salespeople know the answers, they sell with confidence. This eliminates call reluctance and results in better sales revenue from your special sections.


The sales tools that your staff has available make the difference between publishing an average special section and a great special section. Provide them with the tools they need to build great special sections.



Here is a quote to remember:

"To the man who only has a hammer in the toolkit, every problem looks like a nail."

- Abraham Maslow


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.

Websites –, www.Coupon-America.NET and


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