Is It Worth It To Advertise In Your Local Newspaper?

Your small business’s advertising budget represents an area of discretionary spending that can be one of the hardest to analyze for return on investment.  Indiscriminate ad placement is not an effective strategy.  Failing to land your message on the right audience is like throwing money into the wind.

cutting coupon

Ad sellers will offer hosts of reasons why their print advertising venues are right for you.   But where is money well spent?  And is it worth it to advertise in your local paper?

The answer is:  it depends on what you are selling and how you define your ‘local’ newspaper.

Sunday Used to be Prime Ad Time

Sunday mornings used to be brisk affairs for newspaper advertising.  The newspaper’s ad inserts yielded important clues about your upcoming week’s buys.  Price-point shopping was led by big box sellers that did their most aggressive weekly discounting for the captive Sunday morning newspaper crowd.  Consumers knew that even if they were not in the market for a door or porch railing, they still knew where to get one and how much it cost, because Lowe’s, Home Depot and Menard’s each kept them enlightened.

And because the ads were inserted together, the mass marketing effort became tied to the couponing ritual. Looking to save a couple bucks on margarine and frozen fish dinners?  Consumers were clipping coupons anyway, so they might as well save on the Sears promo for the stainless steel gas grill.

The point is that businesses of all sizes could count on predictable consumer habits.  Even if a small business’s budget didn’t allow for a multi-page advertising insert, added value could be gained just by showing up at the party.

Small businesses that sell to consumers (versus to other businesses) have had by far the most options in newspaper advertising.  A theater district restaurant could fill seats with an entertainment section coupon in a small ad.  A travel agency might trace bookings to a well-placed travel-section ad.  Even classified advertising was an effective way to bring attention to your small home improvement or other service business.

Consumer and Print Media Changes

But readership is down for print media, and ad sales are down even more sharply, driven by shifts in reader habits and an overload of information that hardly allows us to absorb an ad, much less clip it.  In Sunday’s Chicago Tribune, the SmartSource advertising insert and the P&G brandSAVER are still hawking food and toiletries alongside big box flyers.  So the print-marketing paradigm is still being applied.

What’s fading, though, is the value for small businesses that could once attach themselves to the newspaper advertising juggernaut.  What used to be a sure thing, no longer is.

Small businesses, especially those catering to consumers, have compensated by shifting their ad spend to alternatives, including daily deal coupons, location-aware services like Foursquare, and hyperlocal news outlets (i.e., your small suburban newspaper or local-news website).

For small businesses, positive returns are often present with hyperlocal newspapers because the papers publish community news and events.   By association, your ad finds its way onto a local reader’s radar screen.  Smaller community newspapers may be eight to forty pages, often in a tabloid size.  Some of those pages will be dedicated to local advertising, where the ad rates run on the cheap side.  That’s because the publication will be smaller and doesn’t have the cost structure of the major-metro newspaper.  Small community newspapers are actually growing, even while their larger counterparts are struggling.

Recently,  Street Fight, which focuses on hyperlocal content and commerce, conducted research with select local small businesses. The upshot?  Small businesses are moving more of their advertising efforts to “hyperlocal opportunities” to find customers and generate business, because it meets their needs.


Street Fighting noted that they learned the following:

1. Local merchants want new customers. This is a chief concern even over direct ROI in a campaign.

2. However, they do like the transparency that digital options offer versus the print platforms that previously were their primary options.

3. Some local merchants are already spending 100% of their budgets on hyperlocal — with the intent to continue this focus.

4. Yet, “free” and “no upfront costs” are, not surprisingly, very big draws for local merchants, which is why they continue to try daily deals services even as they experience inconsistent results.

5. And that hyperlocal sites are perceived as a natural evolution of their print marketing budgets.

In addition, according to an EMarketer report, U.S. local online ad spending is also expected to grow, anywhere from 8% to 18% annually.  So if the publication has a local website, that may also be a viable spot for advertising.

The Answer

So what’s the answer to the question, “is it worth it to advertise in your local newspaper?”  For many small businesses that sell to consumers, yes it is — provided you think of your local newspaper as not being the major-metro newspaper but the local community or suburban newspaper, where the audience is targeted, the ad rates lower, and the staff motivated to place your marketing message with more of a personal touch. And you may also want to consider more online hyperlocal advertising alternatives, too.

Advertising Photo via Shutterstock


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

26 Reactions
  1. I would be curious to also see the age demographics data for those same “select local businesses” surveyed by Street Fight. While there is a glut of digital media, for those in demographics that are not paying any attention to it, newsprint and magazine advertising likely are important touchpoints with small business brands.

    The best advice I can offer is to make sure that you give a different phone number (Google Voice and other services), website, email, or other contact information from all your other marketing efforts so that you can segment specifically when you get ROI from print advertising. Then, ask your 3-4 major questions of new customers (in order of sales cycle: How did you find us? Who are you (i.e., age, income, needs/wants)? How can we help you? Do you have any feedback?

    I bet you’ll come away from the situation with a custom-tailored view of advertising ROI for your small business.

  2. Local/community papers seem like a good investment if your target audience reads it. I find the ad departments of many smaller papers don’t reply to email inquiries for information on pricing. I’ve had this experience with more than one local or community paper. I concluded they only allowed certain companies to adverstise in their paper.

    • Hi Anita! I have not had your experience, so it’s hard for me to comment specifically about what may be going on.

      However, one thought that comes to mind is that some smaller newspapers just may not have the staff to respond. It’s not uncommon for sales inquiries to fall on the floor in smaller organizations. Crazy and counter to their interests, I know, but it happens.

      – Anita

    • I have had this experience with more than one local or community paper. I concluded they only allowed certain companies to advertise in their newspaper.

  3. Hyperlocal opportunities are great because it allows you to target more effectively. Your offer can relate to geographic distinctness that is lost on broader campaigns. And make the offer trackable, where they have to bring in the ad or mention a certain discount code to get the promotional price. Then keep track. It is possible to determine the ROI of these types of efforts.

  4. Every time I visit my chiropractor, there are one or two customers who’ve responded to a hyperlocal opp, e.g., “LivingSocial” with its extremely localized offers. So many others that I talk to locally say they use similar services. The obsolescence of the local paper is near b/c the market is fading. It may be worth it now, in some cases, but it won’t be for long.

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    The local newspaper here in Gothenburg (The Gothenburg Post, about 600,000 readers of the paper newspaper), Sweden, has a big share of the mainstream media and new media market and the main revenue is advertising. They recently started a Group-On alternative, giving daily deals linked together with ads in the newspaper.

    Do you have free local newspapers? Here you have both area located newspapers and the biggest newspaper in the world, Metro. The Metro is distributed on the trains, trams, buses, etc. and nearby transportation stations.

  6. If you have already ran, and split tested, a winning online campaign, moving it over to local print media can really strike a chord utilising ‘net tested copy.

    Sometimes turning a situation on its head can have surprising results. Guessing is better left to the village wise woman. 🙂

    • Good tip, Graham. That “testing” discipline helps in all marketing, but especially in advertising.

  7. Jordan J. Caron

    I honestly believe the only reason to advertise locally in a newspaper is to create brand awareness, to promote a sale or if you have a damn engaging advert.

    My problem is the amount of eyeballs who will actually check out your advertisement. People can flip through a newspaper and blank out the advertisements just like they can use a DVR to skip through commercials.

    Advertising in a newspaper will do nothing long term though. You have to be online and providing meaningful marketing if you want to survive in this economy.

    • Most papers are aware that digital is one way to go and so most do offer both and will promote mass media also. I am young but still use the paper for things and I am not waiting for the 5 sec count down to skip the ad, as I am on youtube or FB. Also I pick up the paper over and over again just to look, it is like window shopping with out leaving the house or having things pop up at me or a friend IM or DM me. Paper is part of the feel part of sales. I have often gone out for dinner due to an ad or coupon( although I always forget the coupon). Advertising needs to be placed in several spots so that your company name comes to mind multiple ways .

  8. @Jordan makes a valid point. We are assailed from all angles these days. A zillion digital media channels compete for our attention like petulant children. Longterm ads now belong to a distant, gentler, time.

    However, local ads can provide a springboard for local traffic to hop onto a web-based promotion, should they be compelling enough.

    The window of opportunity if brief. Much like a firework.

  9. I depend on community paper advertising for my clients all the time. I generally try to find discount classified advertising networks for their ads where we can reach the most readers for the smallest investment. Doing this allows us to advertise consistently. I’ve got several good programs that always perform well.

  10. One of the biggest problems of ALL businesses today, large and small, is that they don’t do enough to embrace the new customers who come as a result of marketing efforts. It’s become so very rare to receive a “thank you” when a cashier takes your money (for example) that it’s easy to stand out among competition if you just apply yourself and train staff to be more focused on relationship-building.

    Local business owners using online coupons can capture email addresses and use smart marketing techniques to drive return visits of they would only go the extra mile. Unfortunately, most don’t apply methods to maximize their return.

  11. Jessica Miller

    It is worth advertising in your local paper as it could reach people who are using traditional ways to learn about news and information.

    Jessica Miller

  12. I have to agree with your article, however newspapers are falling away, I have moved my company towards using online advertising, many sites like twitter and facebook are much better than print.

  13. For Anita Mathis – about the small papers asking for a phone call to discuss rates as opposed to sending an email response. I had the same initial experience. When I asked why not email me he said there are so many options. Upon discussing it – there were so many options, mostly that discounts come with volume and; the ad size, color or not, area of the paper… The phone call was worth the time.

  14. I’ve worked for a small family owned newspaper for many years and have found that customers are overwhelmed with advertising choices. This leads to a tremendous amount of speculation as to what works and what doesn’t, leading to “well we’ll try this one time” and see if it works approach.

    I’ve noticed that one reason that the local merchant finds newspaper advertising unprofitable is because they do not put enough thought or a meaningful product or price point in their advertising. They tend to place the same items or services in print advertising that has always been in their advertising for years. The risk takers that know their break even point on their pricing structure and price their products in their advertising for the sake of attraction, are the ones who do well with their advertising.

  15. Agreed… and I also see a people (here in Canada) advertising in the classified section of Kijiji – thanks Anita 🙂

  16. The problem with newspaper ads is you cant track your results as closely as online. Kijiji and youtube and twitter are some of the more recent online options. Smaller towns it is beneficial for sure. Thanks Anita

  17. I think still newspaper advertising plays an vital role in Marketing.

  18. Very nice information, it is valuable and useful to so many people. Thanks for sharing this.