Kevin Slimp: Selling newspapers

"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 at the Tennessee Press Association convention recently, Jack Fishman from Morristown, used those words as we sat at the corner of a long table, waiting for a board meeting to begin.

I'm pretty sure he knew he was preaching to the choir. What followed were emails, phone conversations and, eventually, a face-to-face meeting between Mike Fishman, publisher of the (Morristown) Citizen Tribune, Jack and myself.

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

Speaking of training, exactly a week after my visit to Morristown to discuss training, I travelled to Greeneville, Tennessee, just 30 miles up the road to do some tests and work to improve reproduction quality in photos.

While there, I ran into a familiar face: Hala Watson has attended several of my design classes over the years. She was quick to tell me she had recently moved from production 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 she is loving sales and has gained quite the 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."

I've been working with Tim Smith quite a bit lately in training, and I knew it surely wasn't that easy. But maybe it was.

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

"Gregg Jones (Sun 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.

That's a pair of facing pages, with content that stretches over both pages, usually across the centre spread of a newspaper.

As our group walked into the dining room at 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 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." She made her approach to a potential advertiser 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."

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

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

"At first," she told me, "I didn't think I would be a good salesperson. When they showed me the paperwork, it was overwhelming."

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."

During our phone conversation, I learned 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."

Kevin Slimp is chief executive of and director of The Newspaper Institute. Contact him at

Pictured: Hala Watson - People are responding (Photo: Brian Cutshall Greenville Sun)

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