At first listen, the plan seems borderline delusional. After all, asking buyers and planners to forsake must-buys like The New York Times and Newsday in favor of shopping circulars is the kind of request that gets salespeople escorted out of the building by security guards. But two of Tri-State's marketing minions, advertising director Stacie Boering and media consultant Don Andrews, argue their case persuasively.
"What we're trying to do is let [marketers] know that the Pennysaver is one of the smartest and least expensive ways to fill the gaps," explains Boering. "Let's say that the Journal News [a 150,000 circulation daily that serves Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties in suburban New York] reaches 35% of the market in the 15 to 20 zip codes we serve. We're not telling advertisers that they should pull out of the Journal News; we're telling them that the Pennysaver can reach the parts of the market that the Journal News isn't reaching."
In discussing the Pennysaver, Boering and Andrews note declining newspaper readership (nothing new there) and increasing ad rates (ditto). They note that even if half of the Pennysaver's recipients discard it without a glance, it still reaches as many readers as all the newspapers in its market combined. "To get our coverage [in the areas served by the Pennysaver], a media person would have to buy all of the area dailies," Andrews says.
Mostly, however, they concern themselves with the benefits of advertising in the Pennysaver rather than the drawbacks of tried-and-true newspaper advertising. Delivered every week to three million homes and businesses via the mail, the Pennysaver blankets the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region in a way that few other mediums can. According to a recent Circulation Verification Council study, the Elmsford, New York edition of the publication is read by 82% of the households it reaches. More importantly for potential advertisers, 75% of those readers say they "frequently" purchase products or services featured in Pennysaver ads.
Right now, the Pennysaver's editions are dominated by retail ads ("every home is a potential customer for Lord & Taylor and Macy's," Boering chirps), with recruitment and automotive ads also comprising a large part of the mix. Growth categories include direct-response advertising and car dealerships. "Daimler-Chrysler spends something like $1.9 billion on ads, but these dollars aren't trickling down to the local level," Andrews notes.
As for the limitations of the Pennysaver model, neither Boering nor Andrews kid themselves about its place in the media food chain. "Sure, it's partly an issue of perception," Andrews concedes. "People hear 'Pennysaver' and automatically think 'cheap.' That's one of the things we're going to have to change, that perception that the Pennysaver might not be a viable ad medium."
Attempting to sway media planners and buyers, then, is central to the company's plans. Both Boering and Andrews say the task is complicated by the media community's hesitance to break with past practices. "It's easy for buyers at the larger retailers and chain stores to say 'let's get in the [New York] Times and the Daily News' and be done with it," Andrews explains. "But when you ask them why they're doing it, they don't really have an answer. It's just because things have always been done that way and nobody wants to try something new."
Adds Boering: "I'm not saying we don't have a long ways to go, but at least major companies are opening their eyes to us. They're slowly beginning to realize that they can't rely on the daily paper anymore to reach their customers."