John Voket | NENPA eBulletin | February 25, 2020

As the newly-minted owner and publisher of Editor & Publisher, Mike Blinder launched into his keynote at NENPA’s 2020 New England Newspaper Convention hearkening back to a mantra he learned from a key mentor back when he was working in broadcasting.

While the advice seems almost quaint, even eternally simplistic, Blinder believes the credo rings true today – particularly when considering the sustainability of newspapers. He recalled meeting Mike Joseph who created radio’s “Hot Hits” format, and adopting the advice that has served Blinder well for decades: “Find out what they want and give it to them.”

At the same time, Blinder advised the audience that while it is particularly important in the realm of ad sales and marketing, in order for newspapers and in fact the entire industry to survive, it’s vital for publishers and their teams to believe in – and sell themselves to readers.

Blinder suggested that if newspaper operators and staffers believe we’re in a dying industry, that nugget of negativity will eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Is print dead? The answer is no,” Blinder declared with conviction.

Pointing to a completely different kind of hero, Blinder recalled one of the greatest lines in sports coming from hockey god Wayne Gretzky and how it relates to the future success of newspapers.

In trying to explain his record breaking acuity for the game, Blinder related Gretzky once saying, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” In relation to newspapers, that means finding the sweet spot among the niche media serving one’s market.

“The world is niche,” Blinder reminded the NENPA Convention crowd, who gathered February 7-8 at Boston’s Renaissance Waterfront Hotel. “Your lane has to remain hyper-local – it’s where you have to be!”

That means hyper-local in terms of the content newspapers’ maturing readers are demanding and still consuming with significant enthusiasm – as well as how newspapers continue serving their advertisers.

Urging ad sales directors and their front line reps to be a street fighter, Blinder laid out a scenario he employed to help remind skeptical business owners and advertisers that newspapers do have impact in local communities.

On occasion, when faced with an advertiser claiming that nobody reads the local paper anymore, Blinder suggested offering to buy the business an ad in which it promotes giving $100 away to any customer who comes in.

When the business owner inevitably balks at the concept, they remind themselves that local newspapers still do have readers – readers who pay attention to the ads as well as the editorial content.

Citing the latest Borrell Associates 2020 Outlook, Blinder fortified his position about the continued value of newspapers to their business community. He said despite the fact that small businesses are subject to media approaches 40 – 60 times per month, the Borrell study affirms
that newspapers are still the #3 choice for small businesses.

“We’re still number three – but that’s not a bad place to be,” Blinder said, offering this hopeful note: “And digital spending has peaked – and it’s coming down.”

Blinder noted that the most successful newspapers are working to espouse the STS – “shiny toy syndrome.”

“Businesses don’t hate us, they know we work. So here’s the challenge guys – the perception is you’re not dead – the perception is you’re just old. If it’s new it has to be cool. But we still act old and stodgy in a shiny toy world,” he observed.

Referring to his own endeavor and the recent acquisition of E&P, Blinder first changed the cover design by adding a hashtag.

“I branded old with new,” he said. Then he (gasp! upgraded the size of his new magazine.

Then he looked at how he was going to show off all that shiny new attitude to the readers – while reeling them back to become new devotees of his long-established brand.


“That’s my future,” Blinder said, explaining that under his leadership, he saw the E&P e-mail database grow from 18,500 to more than 50,000 bringing an 18-25% open rate and click rates well over 10 percent.

“And every click is going to something I own.”

Then he added podcasts (“…new and shiny!”, and committed to creating virtually no-cost videos to help motivate advertising and marketing partners to put their faith and ad spending into E&P.

In the interest of better prospect engagement, Blinder also advocated morphing off-putting and difficult to digest rate cards. “Rate cards are absurd,” he chided.

Instead, create marketing promoting packages that combine legacy print with digital.

Blinder designs his E&P advertiser packages with elements that can peel away if prospective marketing partners and advertisers hit their budget wall. Referring to the practice as “downselling,” Blinder advocates ad reps going in high and working downward.

Another important reshuffling of sales behavior, Blinder said, involves completing a needs analysis before any discussion of what your newspaper has to offer to a prospect.

“Train your salespeople to lead with client goals. Don’t lead with a product, lead with determining advertiser needs,” Blinder said. The simple formula for success in Binder’s experience is the approach (getting in the door); building rapport; ascertainment (finding out what the advertiser wants); crafting a solution; and then, closing.

“Lead as a B to B advocate helping to grow their business,” he added. “Overcome objections by leading with the benefit.”

Then hit them with a shiny new toy.

“That’s the secret sauce,” he said. “Tell the client what you’re excited about – for me it’s digital.”

Then promote every single positive testimonial available. When sales or editorial hears something good, Blinder says exploit it – “tell the world!”

In response to an audience question about getting emails to drive prospects to Binders arsenal of free and no-cost self-promotional videos, he replied – “ask them for two minutes to watch a video. Fifty percent open it.”

Blinder closed with his own pitch – offering NENPA attendees a premium subscription rate for E&P, and encouraging them to get in the queue now as he slowly begins shifting from open to subscriber-only web content.

John Voket is an Associate Editor at The Newtown Bee in Connecticut, Director of Public Affairs for Connecticut’s Connoisseur Media radio stations, and 2018-19 President of NENPA.