Beyond Print Toolkit: Advertiser communications

Existing advertisers may not realize how many readers have already turned away from print, but with a strong communications plan you can help advertisers see the opportunities to access these readers

By Hayley Slusser

June 27, 2024

Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

While it’s true that print readership is generally declining, many organizations are still heavily reliant on print revenue, especially from advertising.

Your existing advertisers may not realize how many readers have already turned away from print, but with a strong communications plan, you can help advertisers see the opportunities to access these audiences digitally. 

The essentials

No matter how you’re planning to reduce print frequency, there are steps you can take to help existing print advertisers embrace your new products or find new businesses interested in your digital advertising offerings. 

This is an evolution that will not take place overnight, and may require months-to-years of communications to prepare advertisers for an eventual transition. 

For Alabama Media Group, its journey to print reduction began with repositioning itself as a digital media company, not a mere “newspaper website.” This messaging — which started well before any actual print reduction plans were implemented — helped advertisers understand that audiences can be reached through a variety of media. In 2023, Alabama Media Group said its digital ad business has grown by 67% since 2017 and almost 40% since 2019, with a client base that extends well beyond the state.

As noted in the advertising section of this toolkit, creating sales collateral that reflects your updated print and digital offerings is essential before approaching advertisers, both new and existing. Your media kit will include details on all your advertising products, their anticipated reach, ad sizes, and deadlines for submission, and your rate card will include pricing for all ad products. 

Key indicators

If you’re considering a partial print reduction, your existing ad schedule can serve as an indicator of which days you should eliminate, ultimately streamlining your communications process. Several publishers who spoke with the American Press Institute said they already had certain days of the week with far fewer advertisers and reduced circulation.

They chose to reduce those days first, allowing them to focus their efforts on communicating with a smaller group of advertisers to get their ads moved to a different day where print was still available and where it was reaching a larger and more engaged audience.

“We started really simply: we have a stable of papers and advertisers, and we suspect most are buying one or two times a week,” Brooke Warner of The Sierra Nevada Media Group said. “Let’s look at the data and see what that implies for how often we should be publishing. The advertisers are probably already telling us what we should support.”

Regardless of how many days of print you are eliminating or whether you are approaching new advertisers or existing ones, your updated media kit and outreach plan should go into detail on the kind of metrics you use to measure an ad’s reach, including circulation, estimated impressions, and/or click-through-rate. 

Just as important as quantitative metrics are the qualitative ones, such as your organization’s value proposition, including what sets you apart from competitors and what kind of audiences you are reaching. Existing print advertisers already have an idea of these metrics, so your outreach to these organizations should focus on how these same benefits will be provided in a digital format. Your timeline for print reduction, proposed outreach plan for subscribers, or data on digital subscription rates and demographics can be cited to show advertisers your commitment to bringing your existing audiences on board with new formats. 


Building up your organization’s digital offerings before reducing or eliminating print will help advertisers see opportunities besides printing advertisements, making it easier for your organization to make the case for continued support even after print frequency is decreased. Alabama Media Group created a portfolio of digital brands over the years, which each brought in their own ad revenue while still reaching the same kind of audiences geographically. 

Alabama Media Group’s media kit goes into detail on these brands and their reach. Many other newsrooms offer online media kits for you to reference — here are some from The Star Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Seattle Times.

But even with a robust digital ad presence, news organizations can still work to preserve the relationship with loyal print advertisers and find alternative opportunities. 

“We looked at every single customer who had ads running on Saturday and Monday and every category and produced a plan to move them into other days,” said Greg Anderson of the Salisbury Post in North Carolina in an interview with the American Press Institute.

This process helped the organization understand which types of advertisers would be more flexible and which ones had more specific requirements for running their ads. Several other news organizations who only partially reduced print told API that most advertisers were willing to work with them on alternative schedules. 

Some existing print advertisers will be hesitant to embrace digital ads. As noted in the direct ad sales section of the toolkit, when working with clients who are steadfast in their commitment to print ads, offering a small digital option as an added value can help them discover the benefits of digital ads and convert them down the line. Continued communications with the advertiser on digital campaign performance — and offering to extend campaigns that underperform — will help you retain digital advertisers in the long-term. 

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