Every day we are presented with opportunities – and challenges – that, if we had the time, resources, and capabilities, we would gladly pursue to our advantage.

Two recent examples of seizing opportunities and meeting challenges played out last week at newspapers in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio. Nearly 1,500 miles apart, these two cities have little in common other than both having great local newspapers.

Celebrating Selena

Hamp Rogers, circulation sales director at the Caller-Times (E.W. Scripps), had lived in South Texas for more than a decade and was familiar with the widespread fame of the performer Selena, the “Queen of Tejano Music.” Selena, a Corpus Christi native, had been killed in 1995. The major music auditorium in the city is named for her, and the Selena Trail is a popular tourist attraction.

The Thursday edition of the Caller-Times would feature a front page story on the Celebrating Selena Festival, and Hamp knew it would be good for single-copy sales. He just didn’t know how well.

After hearing reports from the field that afternoon about strong single-copy sales, Trent Spofford, digital director at the Caller-Times, suggested promoting the “Celebrating Selena” edition on Facebook and Twitter. The immediate challenge was finding an efficient way to take orders for the “Celebrating Selena” edition without disrupting normal business operations.

“Our online service provider set up an online order form in less than an hour, making it possible for Selena fans everywhere to order and pay for up to five copies of the ‘Celebrating Selena’ edition,” reported Rogers. “In addition, in print channels, we directed those interested to visit a special offer Web site where they could access the online order form by entering the response code, Selena.

“We were able to take advantage of local interest in Selena and the Celebrating Selena Festival, selling 350 additional copies of the Thursday edition (in late January, a traditionally slower single-copy sales period) with orders coming in from as far away as Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and California.

Taking advantage of the opportunity allowed us to connect the Caller-Times and our digital products with Selena’s continued popularity in the area. The fact that we could respond so quickly to a market opportunity was very exciting for the circulation sales team.”

Let it snow!

Tom Zeller grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and is no stranger to the city’s winter weather. “We were recently slammed with 13 to 18 inches of snow in our delivery area,” he said. “We responded ahead of the snowstorm by removing the meter on our digital edition, which is normally a hard stop. This has become our standard response whenever we have severe weather looming that could impact delivery to our print subscribers.”

In addition to removing the meter on the digital edition, Toledo’s newspaper, The Blade, sent proactive e-mails to two audiences. 

“We deliver one message to our active subscribers, letting them know they may experience delivery issues and encouraging them to read our digital edition, the eBlade. We remind them that unlimited access to all of our digital products is included with their print subscription, and encourage them to register if they have not already done so.

We remind subscribers that their print subscription includes perks like unlimited digital access and access to the Washington Post’s digital products, and drive them to an online sign-up form to activate these free benefits.”

A separate e-mail is sent to non-subscribers.

“We send a similar message indicating that they may have difficulty getting out in the bad weather to get their newspaper and we invite them to take advantage of the free access to our digital edition for the next few days. We also give a deep discount one month trial in this e-mail message.

While we get a lower response from this group, it is enough for it to be worthwhile and we believe that single-copy readers are impacted just as badly as our home delivery readers. Also, they are more at risk not to re-engage once the weather lifts.”

Taking a proactive stance with severe weather paid dividends for The Blade.

“During this most recent snow event, our live operators handled call volumes that were in line with typical Sunday and only slightly higher than a typical Monday in our call center. Monday was when we officially declared a level-three snow emergency (the highest level in our area).

“During the first 48 hours, we had more than 75,000 page views – more than the same period the previous week. We had 145% more sessions and 191% more users than the week before. This resulted in a 71% increase in page views along with 13% more new – as opposed to returning – users, which was a nice sign of engagement from new or infrequent digital readers.

“In terms of conversions, we registered 172% more subscribers. The total cost for the email campaigns and social media promotion was less than US$550. We would be hard pressed to increase traffic and conversions at those rates via any other campaign. In other words: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”

While The Blade and Caller-Times faced completely different situations – one a challenge, the other an opportunity – they were able to garner the resources and capabilities to make the most – and more – from the situations they faced.

While the two newspapers serve entirely different markets, they both possess the three key competencies for news media company success: the database, commerce, and marketing capabilities.