Times are rough for most newsmedia companies around the world. The economy is going up and down in shorter and shorter cycles, advertising budgets are shaped to more efficiency, and journalism is more and more ubiquitous. This is the time for new creativity if you and your company still want to be vital.

We had this discussion at our newspaper a few months ago when we faced a serious cut in advertising budgets for 2012. Our first conclusion was “as usual” for a traditional business: We talked about our products and our formats; we made variations to our rate cards and our bundles. And when I look at newspapers and their Web sites around the world, I think most of the newsmedia companies do business like this.

But we are not alone in a world of change. Our advertising customers are facing at least the challenges we have and perhaps more. Their problems should be ours, their lessons learned should be shared by us, and their success could be ours if we open our minds more than we did in all of our previous history.

With this in mind, we changed our approach to the problem of fading advertising budgets. We don’t have solutions anymore (in times of reduced advertising opportunities, it looked like we had them), but we have the tools that can be transformed into success when combined with the needs and ideas of our customers.

Just an example: Years ago we had a flyer customer who gave us serious money for distributing his piles of paper, but we hardly made any serious profit. It was one of those old-fashioned business models, where you start dealing about the price and have to handle the complaints if one of those flyers didn’t reach the right mailbox. 

Not long ago, this customer rebuilt his huge retail outlet and didn’t have us in mind during this time of restructuring. For him, it was quite unusual when we approached him with the question: What was his biggest problem right now in his business? We told him we have tools such as the power of trustworthiness, creativity, technical know-how, several media channels, and so on. But we told him as well that we needed his input to develop an attention-getting campaign.

This approach opened a door that even our customer didn’t think was there. His idea of keeping in touch with his customers during the time of restructuring the store became an interesting product through our tools. We accompanied the rebuilding process with video, Facebook campaigns, and traditional ads showing details and progress; we found an enthusiastic customer family who looked behind the curtain and reported on the people doing this huge refurbishment up to the day when the doors were re-opened.

So this advertising customer got quite a different impression of our company. We are not the “piles of paper”-distributor anymore but the media agent that mixes creativity with reach and trustworthiness, as only we can do in the region where he is doing his business.

This was a spark that ignited more creativity to approach our advertising customers. It seems now it has become a new part of our business culture. Our approach has changed. We talk less about those “heavy industries,” things like distribution of tons of paper, and more about qualifying our customers and us for new approaches doing advertising business in regional markets. And there is money in the market for this, besides column inches, colors, flyers, and banners. 

 Times could be worse.