By Sarah Billingsley, AWN Communications Director
A sticky note for Jiffy Lube, a display ad for HBO, a partial wrap for a movie release…alternative papers all around the country seem to be opting for <gasp> advertising on the front cover of the publication. It looks like everyone’s doin’ it these days and we wondered what many of the AWN papers would think about this ‘sticky’ subject, so last month we posed the question to a cross section of alt weeklies in order to get a reading on front cover ads in the alternative newspaper industry.
We contacted thirty AWN papers via email and received responses from ten publishers/associate publishers, five ad directors/sales managers, two general managers, and four advertising account executives.
The responses came from publications all over the country – from Charlottesville, VA to Spokane, WA including a full range of circulation, readership, and staff size. As one would expect of independent-minded, strong-willed alt weekly types, the positions taken on advertising on the front covers were all over the place.
Based on the responses, nearly half (47.6%) have sold front cover advertising. The other half, not only said no, many said “HAIL No!”
Kevin Hellman, Publisher at San Diego City Beat says, “Not yet. My editorial staff would likely quit en mass.” Others believe their readers wouldn’t dig it. “No,” says Alec Binyon, Advertising Manager at the Chico News & Review, “Our readers wouldn’t appreciate it.” Other papers, like the San Francisco Bay Guardian, have found a happy medium with cover flaps and wrap-arounds.
While over half report they have not run ads on the front covers yet, 67% said they would and will when opportunity knocks, as long as the price is right. “Yes” declares Jane Smith, Advertising Director at Willamette Week, “but at a high cost – if we are going to be whores, we’ll at least be high priced whores.” There were, however, 14% who are against it and said not only do they not run ads on the cover currently, they will not do so in the future. The jury’s still out for about 20% of AWN publications (based on our decidedly unscientific poll).
When asked, if you do run front cover ads, what kind of ads do you run?
(cover wraps, sticky notes, peel-backs, regular modular display ads)
Here’s a breakdown of the results:
any/all = 24%
cover wraps (or partial wraps) = 19%
sticky notes = 38%
display ads = 38%
Sean Hitchcock, Ad Director at the Hartford Advocate, says, “Only modular strip ads though we don’t offer any variation from the one size. Ad Notes aren’t cheap to produce, and interfere with the cover image, so it made sense to do a strip across the bottom, make more profit and have cleaner covers. We still do Ad Notes, but only for specific clients. We also try our best to avoid cover strip ads and Ad Notes on the same issue.”
This also is apparently an area of debate with cover designers. It seems to be the general consensus that an ad that can be removed from the cover, like a sticky note or wrap, is less intrusive and less distracting of the cover design.
Once we determined who would not want to run ads on the front cover, we asked that group what it would take to change their mind. The question: “What’s it going to take to get your ad on my cover today?” We received answers like, “forcing”, “A lot of F*ing money”, “placement premium”, and “frequency commitments.
All kidding aside, though, we wanted to know if there is a common theme for determining the pricing for front cover advertising and we received amazing feedback! Here are just some of the answers:
“If an advertiser purchased the back cover we would charge $5K, so we doubled it.” Jane Smith, Ad Director, Willamette Week
“First rule of pricing — what will the market bear. It’s a smaller spot, but SUPER high value. Gotta keep volume down and rate up. Find a few top prospects and shop it.” Frank Dubec, Publisher, C-Ville Weekly
“It couldn’t be priced by the column inch, it would have to priced by the value of the placement. I would think it would be worth at least the value of a full page, and I would guess we’d want to attribute around a 1/5 of the page.” Jer McGergor, GM, Pacific NW Inlander
“We would look at it on an individual basis- client/ local? National? Messaging? we would look at what other weeklies are charging and what other brands are paying and determine pricing accordingly” Mary Samson (National Accounts) and Tim Redmond (Editor) San Francisco Bay Guardian
“Because our daily already offers it, we’d need to be somewhat competitive with their pricing, but again for us it’s more about a solid backbone of core deals sold that we can augment.” Blair Barna, Advertising Director, Charleston City Paper
It sounds like, as with all ad pricing in our industry, we can’t necessarily apply a cookie-cutter formula and decide if that will work for every publication in every market. One clearly common view is that our covers are precious; they are the best visual ad display of what’s inside the paper, so allowing ads on the front cover is a big decision and ads on the front cover must be priced accordingly.
We asked if any pubs have experienced push-back from ads that have run on the front cover. The only negative reaction reported was from …wait for it… the editorial departments. From what we gather, no readers have complained and the advertisers have been very pleased with the response to their ads. Charles Womack, Publisher at Yes! Weekly in North Carolina summed it up perfectly. “No comment from readers, “ he said, “Advertiser loved it. The editorial department was a little ruffled.”
It’s safe to say that with our current economic climate (how sick are we of that over-used saying?), alt weeklies may be willing to take more risks and sell ads on the front cover in order to generate ad revenue, as long as they are priced properly and reflect the true value of the space. So what do you think? Are you going to do it?
View all survey detailed responses here