Advertising success rates prove troubling

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Steve Key
Steve Key

By Steve Key

I’m an enthusiastic cheerleader for newspapers. I can go on and on about their value in a democracy, value to readers and value to advertisers.

But I have a concern based on recent experiences the Hoosier State Press Association has had in placing paid advertising with member newspapers.

If the track record our clients experienced is indicative of what is experienced by other advertisers, newspapers have bigger problems than revenue migrating to the Internet. 

HSPA’s Midwest Advertis­ing Placements service helps the state attorney general place tabloids and ROP advertisements containing lists of Hoosiers with unclaimed property held by the state.

It’s part of the state’s obligation to try and return that property, amounting to millions of dollars, to the rightful owners.

The attorney general runs the ads and tabloids in different flights, dividing the state up geographically to maximize the amount of publicity the lists generate every year.

In the first flight, 13 newspapers received ROP ads containing their county’s list of unclaimed property.

Four of the 13 newspapers didn’t run the ads when they were scheduled.

That’s a failure rate of 30.8 percent.

I wish I could claim it was an isolated incident.

In another situation MAP placed an ad for an Indianapolis advertising agency in 30 Indiana newspapers.

Of the 30, 10 newspapers failed to run the ad, ran it on the wrong day or used incorrect ad copy.

That’s a failure rate of 33.3 percent.

During my short tenure as executive director and general counsel, MAP also has had a newspaper not only fail to notify it that a particular ad did not run, but the newspaper also sent an invoice for payment for the ad it failed to publish.

I can’t imagine any publisher accepting an advertising failure rate of 30-plus percent.

How long would a restaurant that fails to correctly fill customer orders 30 percent of the time be able to stay in business?

How soon would a mech­anic go out of business if he failed to repair customers’ cars 30 percent of the time?

Obviously, I’ve picked out the worst situations encountered by MAP in recent months, but failures of that magnitude should be unacceptable even one time.

I understand many newspaper staffs have been reduced in size while asked to maintain the same level of service to their communities, but there are certain jobs that need to be done correctly:

• Ads need to be run when the customer wants them printed.

• Ad copy must be what the customer approved.

• Rates charged for ads must be what the newspaper and customer agreed to prior to the placement.

• If there is a problem with the placement, a solution to fix it needs to be found immediately for the customer.

If these basic service rules aren’t observed, our customers will find another medium that will do the job.

If processes aren’t already in place, publishers should take time to audit the success rate for advertising placements to protect against 30 percent failures.

I don’t know of any newspaper that can throw away 5 percent of its advertising revenue through did-not-runs, wrong copy or wrong day of publication, let alone 30 percent.

Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for HSPA.