Kevin Slimp technology

Kevin Slimp

Kevin Slimp is director of the Institute of Newspaper Technology.

Email questions to him at

“We need to find ways to give our staff the tools they need to get the job done. Training is necessary if we are going to have successful ad reps, editors and writers.”

While I was attending the Tennessee Press Association Convention recently, Jack Fishman of Morristown, Tenn., said those words to me as we sat at the corner of a long table, waiting for a board meeting to begin.

I’m pretty sure that he knew that he was preaching to the choir. What followed were emails, phone conversations and, eventually, a face-to-face meeting among Mike Fishman, publisher of the Citizen Tribune of Morristown, Jack and me.

As I’ve written many times, there are correlations between successful newspapers and business practices. Fishman was right. Training is a necessary ingredient if we are going to have a successful staff.

‘People are responding. They want to advertise, and I help them get the best advertising for their money.’

— Hala Watson, Advertising staff, Greeneville (Tenn.) Sun

One week after my visit to Morristown to discuss training, I traveled to Greeneville, Tenn., just 30 miles away. The reason for the trip was to do some tests and work with the staff of The Greeneville Sun to improve the reproduction quality in photos.

While there, I ran into a familiar face. Hala Watson has attended several of my design classes through the years.

Hala was quick to tell me that she had recently moved from the production area to the advertising staff. I told her I wasn’t surprised because she has the personality of a salesperson.

I also was not surprised to learn that she is loving sales and has gained quite a reputation as a successful ad rep after just four months on the job.

“You know what I do? The publisher dares me to go out and make a particular sale, then I go out and make the sale. It’s that simple,” Watson said.

I’ve been working quite a bit lately on training ad reps, and I knew that it surely wasn’t that easy. But maybe it was.

She told me that there was a new yoga studio in town. I later passed it on the way to lunch with some of the newspaper’s managers.

“Gregg Jones (the Sun’s publisher) dared me to go out and sell them a double truck, so that’s what I’m going to do,” Hala told me just before lunch.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “double truck” refers to a pair of facing pages with content that stretches over both pages. This usually occurs in the center spread of a newspaper.

As our group walked into the dining room at the General Morgan Inn, I saw Hala having lunch with the owner of the studio. They were deep in conversation. I didn’t see any computers, folders or sales sheets. Just the two of them talking.

Two hours later, back at the newspaper, I saw Hala.

“Did you sell the double truck?” I asked.

“No, but let me show you what I did sell!” she said.

She pulled out a 52-week contract. That isn’t a typo. She sold a 52-week contract over lunch. I don’t know why, but I wasn’t surprised.

Later, I called Hala and asked if she would share some secrets to her success. She was more than happy to share her insights.

“I just try to be me. I like people. I enjoy talking to people and they seem to respond,” Watson said.

When asked how she approaches a potential advertiser, she made it sound simple.

“I don’t take papers or a folder or anything with me. We just have conversations. I don’t push. No one likes to be pushed,” she said.

Asked what she did on her first day as a salesperson, she said: “I just left the office and went out and started meeting people. And guess what. It worked.”

I told Hala that she was an interviewer’s dream. She just kept feeding me one great quote after another. But those weren’t canned lines; she meant what she was saying. She loves selling, and advertisers are responding.

“At first, I didn’t think I would be a good salesperson. When they showed me the paperwork, it was overwhelming,” Watson said.

I asked how she got over that.

“I just started going out. I love meeting people and visiting with them. I just decided to be me,” she said.

During our phone conversation, I learned that the yoga studio contract wasn’t her first. She had signed another year-long contract a few weeks earlier.

Artie Wehenkel, advertising director at the Sun, told me: “I worked closely with Hala when she was in the newsroom. I always thought she was a natural salesperson, and I was right. If someone has a selling personality, we can teach them the rest.”