Spokesman-Review’s COVID ad campaign brings in US$200,000+, supports local businesses

By Kathleen Coleman

S-R Media

Spokane, Washington, USA

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Even in this era of COVID-19, we marketers love a big sell offer or phrase.

That’s why, early on during the lockdown, we at The Spokesman-Review locked onto an idea shared by a colleague who, like us, belongs to the Independent Newspaper Group. Bob Woodward, vice president of Woodward Community Media and publisher of TH Media in Dubuque, Iowa, offered up a gem of an idea, which he called community “matching grants” for advertisers.

Buoyed by Woodward’s success, we snatched the idea and dolled it up with a catchy moniker: “The Spokesman-Review Million Dollar Match.”

The Million Dollar Match invited advertisers to take advantage of a half-off deal offered by The Spokesman-Reivew.
The Million Dollar Match invited advertisers to take advantage of a half-off deal offered by The Spokesman-Reivew.

It’s a simple concept: We made a million dollars (in inches, impressions, commercial printing, or digital services) available for current, inactive, or never-ever advertisers to apply for in June, July, and August. A real estate customer of ours sent me a friendly e-mail after the promotion began, lauding us for the “clever half-off advertising” campaign. And yes, that is exactly what this is.

Like Dubuque, we put a cap on how much an applicant could seek in advertising matching dollars (US$10,000). We stipulated that applicants must be “locally owned” (and interpreted that to be regionally owned as well). And, also like Dubuque, we committed to approve virtually any request, unless an applicant fell into the category of bad debt.

And, no, applicants who are current clients with an already in-progress buy cannot use these dollars to complete it. We will, however, approve them for an additional campaign after their current spend’s end.

With one month left for businesses to apply for and take advantage of our programme (ads must run by the end of September), we’ve approved just over US$204,000 in business, many of which are brand-new advertisers.

To publicise the campaign, we:

  • Launched with several run dates of full-page “Letter from the Publisher” ads, announcing the programme.
  • Sent the same information via e-blast to our database of current and never-ever advertising prospects.
  • Created three different looks for print and digital campaigns to use over the three-month application period.

To prep sales executives, our sales director, Dan Fritts, created a comprehensive FAQ sheet and shared it with everyone. He then followed up with a Microsoft Teams sales rally and Q&A session. Fritts had oversight of applications and worked with our accounting team to vet applicants. We promised applicants a response within 48 hours.

The campaign attracted both frequent and new advertisers to the publication.
The campaign attracted both frequent and new advertisers to the publication.

No matter what your COVID-19 situation, this promotion can be a crowd-pleaser and a real boost of community spirit for your advertisers and your sales executives.

We at The Spokesman-Review, perched as we are near the Washington and Idaho state border — states with markedly different approaches to coronavirus safety and mandates — have been pleased to offer the market something to feel good about.

When your readers and customers may feel like they’re living in a passage from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (I prefer the literary interpretation over the animated movie) due to coronavirus-induced fear, here is something tangible, helpful, and absolutely useful to ease their journeys.

About Kathleen Coleman

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