Paper the Town

Newspaper advertising isn't black and white, so follow these rules.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the December 2007 issue of Entrepreneurs StartUps Magazine. Subscribe »

Are you starting your business on a tight budget? There's no money to waste on ineffective advertising. If you're considering using newspapers, you'll find many challenging options. Should you advertise in neighborhood papers? What about the major metropolitan daily? Or free shopper publications?

When making these marketing decisions, follow three important rules:

Rule #1: Choose the newspaper that reaches your target audience with the least amount of waste. Smart media buying starts with a carefully defined target audience profile. The more narrowly you can describe your best prospects, the easier it will be to find publications that can reach them. Write a simple, one- or two-sentence description of your target audience based on various demographics (gender, age and any other important information such as residence and household income), as well as their preferences or buying habits.

Ask the newspapers you're considering what percentage of their readers matches the demographics of your target audience. Many papers, particularly large metropolitan dailies, also have access to qualitative data from research firms such as Scarborough Research, which will produce a report for you showing what percentage of readers engage in a particular activity. With this quantitative and qualitative information in hand, you can choose the paper that best pinpoints your audience and avoid paying to reach readers who cannot become customers.

Rule #2: Select the publication that's a source of information on what you market. This can sometimes overrule rule #1. If only 20 percent of the readers of your major daily newspaper match your target audience profile, but a neighborhood newspaper reaches your audience with very little waste, you'd assume the local paper is your best buy, right? Not necessarily, because you also have to consider content.

Many newspapers have search corridors--places where readers look for articles and advertising on particular topics, such as technology or finance. Readers become accustomed to using these search corridors to shop. And if the neighborhood paper doesn't contain sufficient advertising and editorial on what you sell, placing an ad there would not put you in that search corridor. So even if the major daily presents a less efficient way of reaching your target audience, it's the smartest place to place an ad if it offers a recognized search corridor for what you sell.

Rule #3: Choose the outlet where you can afford to advertise with enough frequency for your message to penetrate. Frequency is not the number of times you run your ad; it's the number of times a publication's readership is expected to see it. The actual frequency necessary will depend on what you're marketing, whom you're trying to reach and the complexity of your message. But if you find you can't afford sufficient frequency in the print version of your newspaper, consider advertising on its website as a cost-efficient alternative. You can choose the online channel in which your ads will appear and the number of impressions you wish to buy. Best of all, newspaper websites are often the top web portals in their geographic markets and tend to draw additional younger and affluent readers.

Whether you advertise online or in print, place your ads consistently with as much frequency as possible so your message hits home.

Contact marketing expert Kim T. Gordon, author of Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars: The Top 50 Ways to Grow Your Small Business, at Her new e-book, Big Marketing Ideas for Small Budgets, is available at


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