A new newspaper magazine delivers advertisers to the doorsteps of America's heartland.
The residents of America's small towns are more likely to buy gas grills, pressure cookers, and pet supplies than the average citizen. They are also more likely to buy country music and cottage cheese. But so far, advertisers have been unable to efficiently target this potentially lucrative market, which today is approximately 60 million strong. Until now.
Launching next month, American Profile will be the first national weekly newspaper magazine - please don't call it a supplement - inserted exclusively in the community newspapers of America's small (and smaller) hometowns: 74 percent will be distributed to D markets, those counties with populations of less than 20,000, and 12 percent to C markets, with populations between 20,000 and 85,000.
"There's not yet been a truly efficient media delivering advertisers to C and D markets," says Dan Hammond, publisher and CEO of Publishing Group of America (PGA), American Profile's privately held publishing company based in Nashville, Tennessee. "National newspaper magazines, like Parade and USA Weekend, well serve A and B America [counties with populations above 85,000]. We see ourselves as a complement to them, not a competitor. We are delivering a virtually unduplicated market and one that advertisers have been seeking to reach."
In fact, advertisers traditionally have steered clear of hometown newspaper markets, largely because identifying appropriate buys in small circulation, often family-owned community newspapers is extremely arduous and costly. But American Profile aims to supply advertisers with a one-stop-shopping media outlet for reaching small towners with a single collective buy.
When the magazine debuts on April 23, it will be inserted into approximately 500 newspapers with average circulations of less than 4,000 in the Midwest and Southeast, where the number of community newspapers is highest - about 1,300 and 900, respectively. Other regions of the country will be added at six-month intervals, reaching an expected total circulation of 10.5 million by 2002.
While American Profile bears a striking resemblance to Parade (circ: 37.1 million) and USA Weekend (circ: 21.8 million) in both style and design, including the bright colors, oversize dimensions, and newsprint-weight pages, the editorial content's decidedly folksy feel sets it apart. American Profile's tagline, "Celebrating Hometown Life," says it all: Items about gardens, country recipes, knitting tips, and county fairs will drive its editorial content. "We want to focus on the good news about living in America's small communities," says Hammond. "A couple who lives in C America Pennsylvania and C America New Mexico may see themselves very differently, but both will tell you they live in middle America. Both have similar values."
Each issue will profile one of the country's small towns, in addition to regular customized regional features such as "Hometown Heroes," and a calendar of events. National stories on celebrities with local ties, health trends, entertainment, and current events will keep readers informed about the goings-on in neighboring locales as well as those far and away.
Advertising rates for American Profile are slightly more expensive than Parade and USA Weekend; the cost-per-thousand readers for American Profile is $21.75 for a 4-color full page ad, compared to Parade's $19.39 and USA Weekend's $20.80. But for some, like national direct-response advertiser Checks Unlimited, which sells customized checks, the extended exposure is worth every penny. "The audience that American Profile is going to reach is one that doesn't normally get to see a Sunday supplement or freestanding insert, and that's normally where we advertise," says Howard Brooks, new-customer acquisition manager for Checks Unlimited, whose company has so far contracted for 12 insertions.
Then there are advertisers with products that specifically mesh with the lifestyle of consumers living in smaller communities. While residents of C and D markets are 27 percent more likely to listen to country music than the national average, for example, getting to that audience has been a chore, says Mike Kraski, senior vice president, sales and marketing for Sony Music in Nashville. "We usually do national print, radio, and TV and then layer with regionalized advertising. But we haven't been able to layer for the secondary and tertiary markets before now," says Kraski. "American Profile will allow us to pick specific artists to promote. There will be less Dixie Chicks and more Patti Loveless. People in these markets tend to be a little older, more often female, and have more traditional tastes."
In fact, 52 percent of American Profile's prototypical readers are female and older - 38 percent are between ages 35 and 54 and 35 percent are over 54, according to an analysis of C and D markets by Mediamark Research. Fifty-four percent have household incomes of $35,000 or more, 44 percent have some college or a college degree, and 77 percent own their own homes.
"The American Profile reader profile matches perfectly with the Pigeon Forge visitor," says Charla Fogle, media representative for Pigeon Forge Tourism in Tennessee, which promotes local attractions such as the nearby Dollywood amusement park and the city's annual Quilt Fest. Forty-nine percent of Pigeon Forge visitors are between the ages of 25 and 54, 50 percent have a household income of $35,000 or more, and 71 percent are female.
And Fogle says that while national television and radio are effective ways to reach a large audience, too often potential customers fall through the cracks because they do not necessarily watch TV or listen to radio as frequently as city folk. "People in small towns are more likely to value their community paper," says Fogle. "American Profile will speak more specifically to them."
She could be right. People in America's heartland love their hometown and community newspapers, says Ken Allen, executive vice president and CEO of the National Newspaper Association (NNA). In fact, readership of community newspapers - the majority of which are non-daily - was 150 million in 1998, and many papers are experiencing 3 percent to 5 percent annual circulation increases, says Allen. In comparison, total daily newspaper readership was only 137 million in 1998, down about 5 percent from 1988, according to the NNA.
Not only are they reading more community newspapers, but C and D Americans are fiercely loyal to them: 71 percent of residents in non-metropolitan areas regularly read a community newspaper, and 83 percent of readers read every or almost every issue of those papers, according to the NNA. "My wife and I get four community papers every week and we read every part of them," says Allen. "Unlike the Washington Post, which I throw away at the end of the day, the community paper will sit on the coffee table for three to four days and is read by a number of people passing through."
And unlike television, the advertisements in those papers linger as well. "With television and radio you can often get great coverage but no impact," says Hammond. "TV doesn't lay around all week and you always have that remote control. You are buying eyeballs, but you don't know if you're reaching anyone."
Community newspapers are part of the fabric of people's lives, says Ron Fryar, regional vice president for Morris Newspaper Corporation in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who has subscribed three of his six community papers to American Profile. "It's like an old friend - people get used to seeing it. People read every part of the paper, they want to know what's going on. It has what we call `country mud.'"
It was American Profile's cozy content and eye-catching color that won over Fryar. "What newspapers always have to do, predominantly, here in rural America, is to think about how to add flavor, how to bring more value to our product at a minimal cost," he says.
Twenty years ago, Fryar subscribed his most urban newspaper, the Daily News Journal, in Murfreesboro, to Parade, and the paper's circulation has grown steadily since. But when Fryar tried to buy Parade for his two smaller circulation tri-weeklies, the industry leader wasn't interested. They limit subscribers to dailies with a Sunday edition and typically to those with circulations of more than 100,000.
"Small markets are not our business," says Fred Johnson, senior vice president, director of newspaper relations for Parade, who says that neither Parade nor USA Weekend has ever attempted to enter C and D America. "We cannot adequately serve the smaller markets. National advertisers aren't jumping up and down for them." Even so, Johnson believes American Profile has a shot: "They seem to have the advertising aspects covered, going after niche markets regionally," he says. "I think overall it's good for the newspaper industry, it's good for magazines. I say the more the merrier."
Fryar couldn't agree more. "American Profile is carving out a totally new market that hasn't had the opportunity to buy into other national supplements," he says. "It's much easier and cheaper to buy a supplement than to add another reporter. And we could definitely never produce it as cheaply as we can buy it."
Not everyone is completely sold on the idea, however. "American Profile has a marketing job ahead of them," says Steve Greenberger, senior vice president, director of print media for Grey Advertising's Mediacom. While he's optimistic that American Profile will be successful at reaching C and D markets, he's not sure if many national advertisers will really care to do so. "It's going to be very important for American Profile to show why these markets are important enough to spend extra money on them," says Greenberger. While several of his clients appear interested in adding the publication to their "consideration list," none has actually bought space yet.
"Advertisers already think they're penetrating the C and D markets as deep as they can just by covering the A and B's," says Greenberger. "American Profile has got a great concept and great writers, but like everything else in this market, we'll have to wait and see."