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WV News’ Andy Kniceley talks using market research to sell in Editor and Publisher magazine

Article notes effective sales depend on going deeper than mere online-traffic metrics

Bob Sillick for Editor & Publisher

Even in an age with ever more sophisticated digital technology to gather and analyze marketing data, media companies and their ad sales reps continue to search for the “magical” data to build long-term trust with advertisers, differentiate themselves and maximize sales.

For newspapers, the task of using market research to sell effectively is exacerbated by increased operational costs, reduced newsroom staff, the lack of a research budget and expanded reporting to cover issues of great importance to readers.

As newspapers were competitively compelled to add online platforms, they relied on analytics measuring primarily traffic to the stories and other content. Sammy Papert, a sales and marketing consultant with decades of guiding media companies, especially newspapers, says relying heavily on online traffic data is why newspapers generally do a very poor job using market research to sell.

“I don’t consider online traffic data as meaningful research. It’s only measuring readers’ online behavior. It doesn’t reveal what an advertiser, subscriber or reader thinks, feels, or wants behind the activity. The good news is when used effectively, research can differentiate newspapers from their competition and educate and better serve customers,” Papert said.

Several years ago, Papert participated in a research project to understand the difference between print and online consumption of newspaper articles. The conclusion was newspapers needed to publish different print and online content to develop new and additional reading and consumption patterns. He says too many news outlets are still publishing the same content on both distribution channels.

Andy Kniceley

Using market research in West Virginia

WVNews publishes 16 local newspapers and other publications throughout West Virginia, some for over 150 years, but describes itself as “a growing digital media company.” According to Andy Kniceley, publisher, its digital-first strategy allows it to publish 30 to 40 original local pieces of content daily, ranking it much higher in Google searches than other media in its markets.

“We’re usually the first news outlet in our markets with local content that we develop through social media and then back to our websites. The final content products are finished stories in print. With all those actions, we can precisely reach our geographic audiences and generate the data advertisers want, whether in print or digital. During the first part of 2023, our digital revenue has increased approximately 30%, and our print revenue has increased 5% to 6%,” Kniceley said.

The other critical element in WVNews’ ad sales success is utilizing the services of a market research company that asks consumers about their purchase intent, which is then paired with online analytics for each of its 24 publications. That combination allowed Kniceley and one of his sales reps to land a $50,000 ad contract from a financial services company. It was spending $250,000 annually on three of the four TV stations in the Clarksburg, West Virginia, market — and nothing with WVNews. During the presentation, the prospective advertiser stated his target audience was adults 45 and older with a $500,000 financial portfolio.

“His ideal customer is our primary audience. Much of that audience chooses digital platforms first for news and information. Google Analytics proves our readership strength in all our markets. With the data from the market research company, we were able to show him that adults 45+ with a $500,000 portfolio don’t watch much legacy TV. Using this market research source helps us increase our closing ratio and market share,” said Kniceley. …

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