The Secrets to Effective Newspaper Advertising


Newspaper advertising is often a double-edged sword. It can provide you with exposure and leads, but your response rate will probably be less than overwhelming in comparison to other advertising mediums, such a Internet or broadcast advertising.

However my experience is that whether you are starting a new business or seeking to improve an existing business, that you should experiment broadly with your advertising. And for many small businesses newspaper advertising may still be highly effective. Just don’t go out and make a large advertising commitment until you have first tested it with smaller amounts of money.

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Choose Your Newspapers Carefully

Advertising in regional and national newspapers can be expensive. Advertising in local or community newspapers is less so and may provide a more focused advertising approach. If your business trade is localized, it certainly makes more sense to focus on the community or local papers that your customers are more likely to read.

Running ads in major metropolitan newspapers can be effective if your product or service offering is strong enough or unique enough to pull in customers from throughout the readership or circulation area.

Related: How to Choose the Right Advertising Media

Pay Attention to Your Competition

Chances are that your competitors will be spending money on newspaper advertising, too. Remember that this will reduce the effectiveness of your newspaper advertising campaign, because you will be competing for your customers’ attention and “mind share.”

How Is Newspaper Advertising Sold?

Newspaper advertising is sold by the column inch. Different advertising classifications may have different rates. For instance, a service directory advertisement may be less expensive per column inch than a small ad placed on a regular editorial page. Virtually all newspapers offer discounts for contract advertisers, depending upon the volume of space they commit to over the course of a contract year.

Related: The Secrets to Effective Radio Advertising

A Few Basic Pointers on Writing Your Own Newspaper Ad


Get readers’ attention with a headline or an eye-catching phrase. Keep it short and simple, and avoid the use of controversial phrases or slang.

Copy Length

Use a copy length that supports your message. Long copy looks informative and is good for technical or business products. Short copy leaves room for graphics. This combination is appropriate for an image ad selling fashion, home decor, and other lifestyle products.


Use comparative advertising phrases such as “You’ve tried the others. Now try us!” only if your product or service has an obvious advantage over the offerings of your competitors.


The body of the ad should list benefits or reasons why the customers should buy your product or service now. Emphasize the customer by using the word “you” instead of the word “we.” Use bulleted text to highlight key points.


The closing copy should make the sale possible by including any contact, telephone, website, address, or other ordering information necessary for the consumer to act on his or her purchasing decision.


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Q: Should I take the newspaper up on its offer to design an ad for me for free?

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A: Never! While the newspaper’s ad rep may tell you that its art department can produce a great ad for free, don’t believe it! The ads that staff newspaper production departments produce are typically terrible. You would be better off hiring a freelancer, even a graphic arts student, and working closely with that person to put together an ad you are really pleased with.

Related: Should I Create My Own Advertising?

Q: Should I run the same ad repeatedly?

A: Yes, you should run the same basic ad design or format repeatedly. This will build a company identity for you and create awareness among consumers. It is also easier to come up with one terrific design concept and modify it periodically to meet the requirements of a new product offering or a special sale—say, a new headline, a different copy slant, or a different photo—than to continually reinvent the ad.

Q: Do I need a photograph or artwork to attract attention?

Many newspaper ads work well without photographs or artwork. This is especially true in the case of service ads. But whether you are running straight copy or an elaborate multi-photo advertisement, your ad must look professional.

Q: What is the best day to run my ad?

A: This depends on the product or service category you fall into. For example, Wednesday is “food” day in most newspapers. If you are offering a food product or service, Wednesday would provide you with the optimum opportunity for reaching your target audience—people interested in food-related purchases. For more general products or services, one day of the week is as good as the next.

Q: How important is position within the newspaper?

A: People look for ads for certain types of products or services in certain sections of the newspaper, such as auto products in the auto section. If you are offering a “category” product or service, be sure to run your ad in the appropriate section. If your ad does not fall into a natural category, then positioning won’t make much of a difference.

Q: Should I run an ad in my local town newspaper or the metropolitan city newspaper?

A: You want to target your prospective market as directly as possible. If, for example, you are unlikely to lure customers out of the city to your small town for auto repairs, don’t advertise in the metropolitan newspaper.

Q: What about advertisers or free newspapers?

A: Advertisers and free newspapers are garnering a larger share of total ad expenditures. They do work and are less expensive per thousand readers than are paid publications. Also, the percentage of households purchasing a newspaper has been in a steady decline. Free papers provide full saturation penetration because they are sent directly to the consumer’s home without request or purchase. This is an attractive proposition for advertisers—so much so, in fact, that many traditional papers have created their own free circulation publications!

If you offer downscale products or low-cost services, consider giving a free newspaper your first advertising shot. If you offer more upscale offerings, stick with the paid publications.

Start out modestly with any advertising campaign, and test your results. This will provide you with a reasonable scale of effectiveness before you commit a lot of ad dollars recklessly.

Streetwise Advice

The Biggest Waste

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A huge percentage of newspaper advertising is a complete waste of money. Newspaper advertising can be profitable, but all too often, it isn’t. This is especially true for small businesses.

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Many small businesses feel they have to advertise, and without much thought or research, toss ads into the local paper. Typically, the only reason they have chosen newspaper advertising as their communication vehicle is because the newspaper ad salesperson was the first person to call on them!

Newspaper Advertising Doesn’t Always Work For Small Businesses

Why don’t newspaper ads always work for small businesses? The most common reason is that they get lost in the paper. Small businesses tend to run small ads with mediocre copy and no illustrative materials, such as photographs or art. And small businesspeople often don’t take the time to measure ad results. Without measuring results, they have no sound basis for improving their creativity, their copy, their offers, or even their choice of media.

Related: How Pay-Per-Click Ads Work for You

Product Ad Dilemma

It is extremely hard to make product ads work. For instance, in my former book publishing business, we placed eighth- to quarter-page ads for different books that we published in the national edition of the New York Times and regional editions of the Wall Street Journal in cooperation with various bookstore chains. These chains stock our books in hundreds of their stores, and we are able to track sales through their computer inventory systems and determine whether or not advertising can be linked to a sales increase on any given book. We found that an ad costing in the $2,000 to $10,000 range, not including production costs, typically generates fewer than 10 additional book sales.

These product ads, in effect, caused a 95 to 99 percent net loss in profitability.

The only “winning” ad that we placed for one of our books ran under an extremely clever headline and offered a terrific discount. Still, it covered costs but did not net a profit.

Product Ad Tips

Concentrate your product ad dollars on large ads rather than on frequent ones. Develop a punchy headline and include snappy illustrations or photos. Include sell copy for the serious potential buyer. And don’t forget to tell prospects where they can purchase your product.

Service Ad Tips

Run service ads where prospective customers will typically see them. The service directory of the local newspaper is usually an appropriate spot. Service ads need to clearly state the nature of the service offered. A great headline isn’t necessary because the prospect is generally already interested in obtaining the type of service you are offering. But you do need to convey a powerful competitive message through your ad. This advantage can take the form of a free trial, new customer offer, special bonus, or free estimate. If your competitors advertise on any particularly strong points that have great consumer appeal, match those points. And highlight a unique reason for clients to call on you first. Some service seekers call every service provider for quotes, some call two or three, and some call one. Make sure yours is the first call made.

And also remember, despite what an advertising salesperson may tell you, the most compelling, not necessarily the largest, ads tend to generate the most “first calls.”

Generous Offers

People expect to see “sale” and “specials” advertised in newspapers. Whether you are advertising products or services, try to offer a special price or bonus to your customers. Make the offer generous. Ten percent off the regular price, especially in this age of national discount retailers and competitive pricing, just won’t cut it.

It costs a lot of money to run ads, and response is often iffy, so offer deep discounts on a limited range of products or services. This is a tactic that lures the customers in and, ideally, while they are browsing, they will purchase other nondiscounted items that have a higher margin. In a best-case scenario, they will become regular customers.

Special Rates

Large metropolitan newspapers and many small local or regional newspapers offer a lower ad rate called the “local” or “retail” rate to local or retail businesses. If you are selling a product through local retailers, you will save money if you get the retailer to place the ad, even if you reimburse the retailer for all costs involved. In some industries, however, the retailer typically shares some portion of the ad space with the manufacturer or supplier.

Newspapers also offer volume discounts if you guarantee to place a certain number of ads over the course of a year. Read the fine print regarding penalties for nonfulfillment on any contract you sign that involves a “frequency” rate. Generally, however, the penalty for failing to meet your placement obligations is payment of the “nonfrequency” rate for the ads you did place. Still, it can be painful to reimburse the publication for the higher ad rate.

Negotiating Rates

Generally, you can negotiate rates off the rate card with smaller papers or papers that don’t have the readership edge in their marketplace. And if your ads are particularly clever, you can sometimes negotiate a better rate deal with a larger newspaper.

Some years ago I wanted to run several full-page ads in a newspaper owned by a large U.S. media company. This company was notorious for adhering to their rate card. But I was determined to negotiate a discount. I called my advertising representative’s boss and politely explained to her that I needed to negotiate a lower rate or I wasn’t going to place an ad at all. This creative individual, wanting to keep my business but unable to go against a strict company policy on rates, established a new rate category just for me! I ran my ads for 30 percent less than any other advertiser in the publication!

Start Streaming the Courses on BusinessTown

Learn how to start and run your business by watching the many courses on BusinessTown including Start-a-Business 101, How to Create a Business Plan, and over 30 courses covering all types of marketing. You can try BusinessTown for free.

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The Secrets to Effective Newspaper Advertising

About Bob Adams

Bob Adams is a Harvard MBA serial entrepreneur. He has started over a dozen businesses including one that he launched with $1500 and sold for $40 million. He has written 17 books and created 52 online courses for entrepreneurs. Bob also founded BusinessTown, the go-to learning platform for starting and running a business.

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