Newspapers need new ideas and quick action when consumer trends indicate a large scale following through a new medium. The Groupon phenomenon emphasizes that with great clarity, and our sales staff (traditional, integrated or converted digital ambassadors) needs to keep up with these trends and be able to quickly adapt to new kinds of sales approaches with their clients.

Newspapers have actually been doing a deal of the day in one form or another for many, many years. Just not quite like Groupon and its multitude of copycats.

Groupon’s meteoric rise to a US$6 billion dollar valued company before it’s reached the age of 2 was accomplished through fairly traditional means: use an existing concept and modernize it. Socialize it and get consumers to take on some of the marketing responsibility (word of mouth). Add to it with a slick design and user interface and promote the hell out of it to build a formidable database.

Utilizing social networking and a business model that banks on the credibility and popularity of other businesses, Groupon is cashing in on a challenging economy and tapping into the strongest online advertising tactic: opt-in consumers. By offering value in exchange for information and soliciting people to voluntarily raise their hands and indicate that they are interested in receiving advertising offers, they have put the consumers in charge which creates the perfect recipe for rapid growth.

Enough about Groupon already.

The challenge that this represents to newspapers is bigger than the US$6 billion Groupon is valued at. The point is that in the last two years that newspapers have been struggling through, a dot-com start-up has highlighted an area of extreme danger for newspapers: our capacity and pace of change. Namely, that it’s slow and often too cautious.

In the last year, along with other dot-com copycats, newsmedia companies all over the world (including the Las Vegas Review-Journal) have developed or partnered with discount voucher companies and programs in efforts to get in the game. In the process, we’ve moved as quickly as possible to train our sales staffs on how to pitch a no-cost, revenue share, online-only program to our traditional advertisers and accounts that we never would have received ad campaigns from.

The learning process has been fascinating. Some media companies have been more successful than others in this new realm and everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing to try and gauge success in what is a fairly unpredictable and time-consuming venture.

We’ve talked a lot in this blog about the value and importance of integrated ad sales within our organizations. It’s certainly arguable that by having dedicated and focused digital assets embedded within a traditional sales staff is helpful in keeping an eye on the evolving digital landscape. Having a fully integrated sales staff that understands print and digital and has their finger on the pulse of the digital heartbeat is even better. Newspaper companies that have both are in the best position.

Even the most integrated sales staff, however, needs a leadership team that embraces discussion of new ideas and can implement change in the least painful and most exciting way. Change is not easy for most people, but it’s integral to our future that we can find consumer trends and jump on them before our competition — which is increasing daily. Moreover, we need idea generation from all areas of our operations so that we can increasingly be the ones creating new trends rather than reacting to them.

If Groupon has proved anything in its two years, it’s that it doesn’t always take a brand new concept to make a breakthrough. Sometimes, it’s just a new twist on an old idea coupled with some smart marketing and utilization of popular and growing consumer pipelines that catches fire. It’s a guarantee, though, that even the greatest ideas created within news organizations will flounder if we are not able to encourage an atmosphere of constant change and improvement.

This change starts with leadership at the top, but we need our sales forces out in the field to be the eyes and ears of what their advertisers (and particularly non-advertisers who are looking for new, cost effective marketing strategies) are indicating they are in need of and excited about.