Monthly Archives: July 2010

Birds Do It, Bees Do It, Are You Doin’ It?

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.

Jane Smith

Jane Smith

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%

ADVOHT1HSean 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

World Market Retailer Courted for Years, Good Deal for a Handful of AWN Papers

By Sarah Billingsley,
AWN Communications Director

Sometimes the biggest ad buys aren’t necessarily the biggest story.    In this story, it’s about a client that many of us (who have sold advertising) have tried to make headway with… and when someone finally does, it’s worth noting.

This is the case with this year’s Cost Plus World Market advertising buy sold by The San Francisco Bay Guardian‘s veteran national sales representative Mary Samson.  The retailer’s  print budget for AWN is just over $20K in its entirety, but it serves four well-suited alt weekly markets (Boise, Bend, Eugene in the Pacific Northwest and Lafayette in Louisiana).  Mary’s determination to move that boulder a little further up the hill is what made this transaction AWN sales blog material.   Here’s a short recap of Mary’s sales journey with the long-time SF Bay Area retailer.

The Cost Plus Story
Cost Plus World Market, headquartered in Emeryville, CA has advertised in alt weeklies  successfully over the years. Their brand has been a perfect fit for an AWN demographic with CostPluscompetitive prices, wide selection,  and original products from around the World (everything from furnishings to unique gifts, wine and hard to find international foods).   Cost Plus opened their first store at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco in 1958 but has since grown to 260 stores across 30 states.  They were at one time described as a much larger, low-cost version of Pier 1.   Today, they’re regarded in the SF Bay Area as something more akin to a  ‘local IKEA’ according to Mary.

Like many retail businesses who encountered more economic challenges as the second half of the decade wore on, Cost Plus World Market had only used print advertising sporadically through the mid-decade.    Mary stayed close to the account over the long haul and finally opened up the conversation and made a deal with their marketing director last year with CPWM resulting in a consistent print campaign for Boise Weekly.

Note:  CPWM also ran a digital ad campaign in Boise over the second half of last year through HanzMediaInc. that coincided with their print strategies.

The success in Boise in 2009, as CPWM marketing director pointed out “finally helped to distinguish alt weeklies from ROP dailies.”   The Boise campaign earned much-appreciated positive feedback from the market and stores.   People were walking in the store with the Boise Weekly ad in their hands.   May says the CPWM marketing director understands AWN’s demographic and believes in Alt weeklies, so she was able to expand the alt weekly buy to additional markets now including Boise Weekly, Times of Acadiana,  Source Weekly and Eugene Weekly.    CPWM is currently running FP 4-C product ads with sale price points for household items, wine, home furnishings regularly in these four AWN member papers.

Way to go, Ms. Mary! One small step for (wo)man…

About Mary:
Mary Samson has been representing The San Francisco Bay Guardian and AWN since 2004.

B&W Fractional Size Mary

Mary Sampson

She has been in the top 5 AWN sellers since her introduction to the network.   Mary has a total of 18 years experience in ad sales including six years in International ad sales for The Wall Street Journal where she was a top 10 sales person worldwide. Her expertise in agency relations and calling on top levels have contributed to AWN’s service-oriented reputation.

Heineken Gift Keeps On Giving

seb120309 NarrowBy Sarah Billingsley
AWN Communications Director

In March, as we were unpacking, sorting through old AWN boxes and settling into our new digs, we got a beautiful housewarming gift from Phoenix Media/Communications Sales Director Sean Weymouth – a cool, new, Heineken advertising buy! And we discovered shortly after, it was a gift that just keeps on giving.

The first wave of Heineken orders we received was a modest three-week campaign from Heineken Light which we welcomed as good news (as anyone would, not knowing what might follow).   Next, Heineken Lager registered another $200k on the sales ledger running in about fifteen markets.    Finally, another round of Heineken Light arrived with more markets and another $155k.    All together,  Heineken was scheduled to run nearly $400,000 through the first week of September.   So, we asked Sean how the deal came down.

How did you generate this buy? Was it an agency and/or client that you have worked with in the past? I have been calling on Heineken for the AWN for a number of years. We had a very strong buy from them in 2007 and then corporately they cut all print (aside from a few one offs) from the budget in 2008 and 2009.  However I have always tried to keep in touch with Mediavest, even doing a presentation for the team there during one of the down years in 2009.  In fact in the time that they last did buying (2007) to this year’s buy (2010) the entire team at Mediavest for Heineken is 100% different.  Just a lot of calls and frustration and meetings for this year’s very generous payoff I guess!

This ad buy has grown over the past few months, was that part of the plan from the beginning, or did the agency change their plan due to effective advertising? They are doing their buy in two phases.  First is Heineken Lager, second is Heineken Light.  Each brand has their own markets that are priority and while many overlap, there are some exclusive to one or the other.  In each case they are buying in Q2, Q3 and Q4 with the Q4 schedules and markets yet to be released.  However I have heard rumblings and believe it will be a nice cap to a very strong year with Heineken.


What did you pitch? (i.e. Added value) We received approval on an aggressive rate schedule from each publication involved.  I also want to thank each publication on their patience and generosity with the rather aggressive ‘positioning’ requests that we had to meet from Mediavest.  Once the buy was placed each market was responsible to meet with their local brand contact to discuss merchandising options – if said local brand team asked to do so.  In some markets Heineken is running a program called ‘Inspire’ where those publications were asked for specific added value in support of the event.  Again thank you to all of the contributing AWN partners here no matter what your situation was regarding the added value.

What challenges have you faced? When you are dealing with a buy of this size and a brand with so many moving pieces like Heineken USA is there are a lot of challenges.  Creative direction and delivery. Added Value and Positioning.  Not to mention handling the account locally on my end for both Boston and Providence Phoenix publications.  Challenges can be overcome if given the right mindset, having patience and having partners like the AWN papers.  I am fortunate to have all three of those things. ??

AWN Publications running Heineken ads
Albany Metroland
Atlanta Sunday Paper
AZ Weekly
Boston Phoenix
Charleston City Paper
Chicago New City
DC On Tap Magazine
Easy Reader
Folio Weekly
Ft. Lauderdale City Link
Hartford Advocate
Honolulu Weekly
Independent Weekly
Las Vegas Weekly
New Haven Advocate
NY Press
Orlando Axis
Philadelphia City Paper
Providence Phoenix
Sacramento News & Review
San Diego City Beat
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Tampa Bay Times

What can publications do to become more attractive to this kind of buy? I have said this before to numerous people whenever the beverage business has come up.  I even said this at the AWN convention in Little Rock on microphone.  I cannot stress this enough – Find A Local Champion For Your Publication in Your Market.   Any rep can give media information and good reps can sell media information but in the beverage world it comes down to selling product locally.  Work with distributors, brand directors even promotional teams in the market.  Demonstrate your support for the products and even try and get them involved locally to show how your pub can make a difference in the bottom line.  Know the players in your market. Can’t stress it enough.  You do not want to be caught in a situation where the agency is recommending you to the client but the local feedback the client is receiving from their brand team sends the agency a different way.  It’s happened to everyone and it isn’t exclusive to Heineken.  The beverage business is local partnerships and relationships and effective presentations and information at the agency level.  Period.

Sean, we thank you for the “housewarming gift”.  I should have sent you a proper Thank You card by now. My mother would be disappointed in me, I was raised better than this… On behalf of AWN, we appreciate your efforts and please keep up the good work!

Sean looking every bit as cool as possible

Sean looking every bit as cool as possible

Sean Weymouth is currently Sales Director, Integrated Media at Phoenix Media/Communications Group in Boston.   He joined the National Sales Staff at Phoenix Media in 2004 where he was primarily responsible for ad sales from Liquor & Beer industries.  Prior to The Phoenix, Sean was involved in promotions at several radio stations in the area.   He graduated from Suffolk University in 2000.

Sean is a sports enthusiast and yes, does have at least one favorite bar.  You can reach him at and also see his fairly recent wedding photos at

AWN 3.0 or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Voice Media Group

By Mark Hanzlik, AWN Executive Director

MARk B&WIf you haven’t already noticed, we’ve sent AWN into the shop for a tune-up and new set of tires and now we’re back on the road with a guide-map and new kick-ass attitude.  For the sake of not repeating myself in too many places too often, you can  read about our new web site and corporate design changes this month in an official press release at

The transformation of AWN had been in the works since the beginning of the year.   It had become increasingly clear that the existing model would not be sustainable  forever and a re-calibration of the sales goals, strategies and our operational home base was in order.    Besides, media and advertising industries had been so severely shaken and stirred the last year or two that it had become increasingly difficult to see how or where alternative weeklies  (including our friends at Voice Media too) would come out on the other side.    At the same time, we had been hoping to re-join the News & Review as a tenant in their new headquarters on Del Paso Boulevard in Sacramento.   It was an opportunity to create an environment where we could ignite the HanzMediaInc team once again by simply moving AWN Central to new quarters and re-thinking our business model.   I’ve always subscribed to the theory that change is good for an organization or individual, as long it’s not done just for the sake of change.

As timing would have it, we were able to move into the News & Review‘s new “green” building on March 1st and at the same time make some personnel changes within our small company that would meld with our new sense of direction.    The cross-pollination of our team with News & Review staff has been successful in every aspect of the business, and it provided our staff with the renewed sense of purpose and context for which they went about their daily job.

Our AWN Central Office lineup now includes Sarah Billingsley, Communications Director (who you’ll hear from often in this blog); Cody Brill, Advertising Coordinator; Lidia Stoian, Accounting Manager; Sheila Malone, Accounting Specialist; and Christopher Rauschnot, Tech Support.

If you haven’t already heard from our newest player, Cody Brill, then you probably haven’t received an AWN insertion order recently.   We’re hoping to change that picture for many of you in the future.   As for potential AWN network sellers… remember this is a sales cooperative.   We invite your ideas and talents, and hope to change those into opportunities for all.