Innovation in advertising is definitely the key for media companies to keep and grow their businesses, as Barbara Cohen so accurately points out in her recent blog (“The three-headed beast that stands between you and true advertising innovation”). 

I want to take this a step further and illustrate how innovation can really work from a practical standpoint for a regional newspaper.

A couple of days ago, I met with the chief executive officer of a regional bank. Among his company’s holdings was a real estate division. He mentioned he was not happy with his real estate advertising in our newspaper, a traditional showing of listings for various properties for sale. He was quite surprised when I agreed with him.

“Your company is selling me this kind of ad, and you’re telling me that it’s the wrong approach?” he said incredulously.

“For years we tried to convince your marketing people to take a different approach, and right now it makes even more sense to do this,” I told him.

Over lunch, we discussed his account and developed a new strategy.

Look at what your newspaper does best

Our newspaper’s core competency is not listing houses and condos for sale, week after week, month after month. Our core competency is to strengthen the corporate image of our client so their staff members are presented to the public as professionals who can effectively solve problems for buyers and sellers. Our core competency is to define what makes our client different from his competitors.

“Ask your sales people what really touches and concerns their customers and write down their answers. That’s the basis for your print ad,” I told the bank CEO.

“Aim your advertising campaign at people who aren’t necessarily considering buying and selling real estate right now. Convince them that you are trustworthy, so when they are ready, they will come to you. And do this by showing the friendly faces of your sales team, instead of a series of postage-stamp-size houses. Just publish the link to your online listings in the ad.”

Why this non-traditional approach works

Buying and selling a house is not just about the property itself, the bricks and mortar, or the lumber. It is about emotion and trust.

We augmented this new campaign of friendly, smiling faces in the newspaper with the full force of social media. We suggested setting up a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account where all the sales people could explain what they’re offering. For example, are they listing a new house? Do they like it as a starter home for a new family or does it have a senior-friendly layout? Let them tell it from their perspective. 

And just think of the new kind of added circulation they get with this Facebook technique.

How you can make this work for you

We gave the CEO suggestions to help his staff create great Facebook updates. For example, they could feature a friendly family and describe how they’re looking for a nice home in the suburbs. We could show a photo of them and even link to their Facebook accounts. This may be frightening to the agents to stretch this far out of their comfort zone, but it also stresses they are professional, trustworthy, and worth every penny of their commission.

This is just one approach to help a client use media spending in a smarter way.

“We newspaper people still want your money,” I told the CEO. “But we want you to be successful, as well. That is the guarantee that you will come back and spend more.”

I assured our client that our newspaper staffers were willing to give up their comfort zone as gatekeepers of his advertising message. But he could still see that we were professional and trustworthy enough to handle his account and develop innovative solutions that offered him success.

By the time we finished our lunch, the CEO was changed from an unhappy print customer to a client with a more open mind. While I am writing this blog, he is setting out this new strategy at a board meeting.

We have to keep offering skill and value

Keeping up advertising revenues is still about doing what’s right by our clients and offering them value and innovation. Remember the blog post I wrote about our radio station a few weeks ago?   

I told another CEO about our strategy in developing our online radio, and our sales team approached his marketing department with an innovative package, mentioning that the CEO was interested. They called him, he was, and it worked!