There are slap-in-the-face moments of truth in our personal lives. (For example, a college roommate warning me off human interaction that day with her comment: “GOD, you look tired.”)

And there are slap-in-the-face moments of truth in our professional lives. (For example, a conversational yet profane Joshua Topolsky blog post on Medium. Here is but a wee, charming sample:

“Your problem is that you make shit. A lot of shit. Cheap shit. And no one cares about you or your cheap shit. And an increasingly aware, connected, and mutable audience is onto your cheap shit. They don’t want your cheap shit. They want the good shit. And they will go to find it somewhere. Hell, they’ll even pay for it.”)

Well, alrighty then!

This Spokesman-Review's Millennial senior sales executive, Matthew Hawkins, knew how to tap a burgeoning advertising market.
This Spokesman-Review's Millennial senior sales executive, Matthew Hawkins, knew how to tap a burgeoning advertising market.

The gist of the piece and the takeaway for us, oh, Audience Development Gurus, is that we need to quite pining for the One Big Thing that’s going to “save” us, and instead focus on reaching the right people at the right time with interesting, compelling, I-can’t-miss-this products. 

The hard, cold truth is that our readers are sophisticated. Thank heaven many still appreciate the “daily everything” we provide in newspapers and accompanying Web sites. 

But they increasingly look to sources other than us for nichey, interesting, readable content. BuzzFeed is popular for a reason. Twitter and Facebook are where people look first for content curated by their friends and trusted brands. Competitive alternative weeklies thrive in our communities for “going there” with content that we haven’t or just won’t create.

In our neck of the woods (Washington state, which, in 2012, became the first of the U.S. states to legalise recreational marijuana use), marijuana retail shops are springing up all over the place. And though our banks will not do business with marijuana outfits (all cash, thanks), a small number of credit unions will. The Spokesman-Review accepts their advertising business, of course.

And, lo and behold, a recent Millennial hire we made to our senior sales staff has stolen advertising clients away from the local alternative weekly with his deep knowledge of media and penchant for service. The business owners appreciate his keen understanding of their pain points and the need for factual information in their ad copy.

In fact, this sales executive’s ability to serve as a marketing consultant to these clients has resulted in new product development (and new revenue) for us.

Beginning on May 27, we’ll offer what is essentially a monthly pot “business directory,” where we’ll also gain new clients in marijuana producers and distributors. Our model is not exactly like that of the very successful The Cannabist out of the Denver Post, but it will definitely serve the needs of this burgeoning segment.

The new publication (soon to have mobile and Web components) will employ a 50/50 content/advertising ratio. It will appear full-run behind our weekly Spokane 7 entertainment section, and will also be available in on-demand distribution at 18 local pot retail shops.

It came together fast: We brainstormed on a Friday. On Monday morning, we emailed internally about pricing, size, and content, and by 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, the first section was sold out.

The moral of the story is, have fun with your staff and move fast.

Yes, some toes will be stepped on. Yes, you will reject suggestions to call the pot section “The Smokesman-Review” or “Weed All About It.” Yes, you’ll have to say no to sampling edibles with your Sunday newspaper.

But pot retailers, producers, and distributors are “going to be stoked,” says our Millennial rock star.

Let me close with this final grab from the aforementioned Topolsky blog post: “We’ll have to learn a thousand hard lessons, most of them centred around the idea that if you want to make something really great, you can’t think about making it great for everyone. You have to make it great for someone. A lot of people, but not every person.”