Newspapers Ought to Embrace the Pay-Per-Inquiry Ad Model

What Have Publisher Got to Lose?

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If newspapers had faith in their medium, they'd embrace pay-per-inquiry advertising.

After all, what could be more persuasive than for newspapers to tell advertisers they're so confident they'll get results that they're willing to get paid based on the number of inquiries the ads generate?

What have newspapers got to lose? They're losing advertising to the internet at a scary rate. Here's their chance to show advertisers that they can measure their medium just as handily as internet guys measure web ads.

I guess they're afraid that nobody would pay the card rate anymore. But the truth is that not all ads are intended to produce immediate sales. Some ads are designed to build brands over a period of time, so when you go to the supermarket you're more likely to pick the brand you've become familiar with.

In last Monday's issue of USA Today, there was an ad for Pella windows and for Dove Men's Care. The Pella ad was run to produce immediate results; the Dove ad was run to build sales over time.

I have been astounded at the avalanche of newspaper ads run by Pella over the last several months. In this economic downturn, I don't understand how Pella can continue to sustain itself as one of the biggest newspaper advertisers in the country, running in such papers as The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Parade, unless it was getting even bigger discounts than normal or paying newspapers based on results.

If, for the sake of argument, they got paid on results, doesn't that mean that the ads have been very effective? If the ads didn't pull and the newspapers didn't earn any return on their investment, why would they keep running them?

Newspapers have built a very powerful distribution pipeline that moves merchandise. When traditional advertisers moved their money elsewhere, papers kept the pipeline flowing by offering readers products and services that they themselves originated. The New York Times, for instance, advertises a wide variety of merchandise from The New York Times Store, online courses and lectures from reporters and wine from its new wine club.

Who cares if they get revenue from their own products or products that pay the going ad rate or products that pay only if they get results -- or even products where revenue is shared? The point is that readers are eager to tap into whatever flows through the pipeline, and if traditional advertisers don't get it, that's their loss.

The Pella ads provide the same kind of measurable results that The New York Times gets from selling its own merchandise. As ad-agency head Gregory Welteroth, who executes ad programs for Pella, explained, the ads use a different 800 number and URL for a quarter page or a half page or a full page, "so you get to measure your media Monday vs. Tuesday, Tuesday vs. Sunday, black and white vs. color ... the things we wanted to know about the media," Mr. Welteroth said in a Q&A with Suburban Publisher. "We have asked this question over and over again: 'What can we expect to get if we gave the newspaper $50,000 or $5,000?' Our answer has always been 'We don't know.' It's time we know. The internet is taking revenue from us; let's be part of the internet venture by measuring our own media quietly in the programs that truly make sense."

I beg to differ with him on one point. Newspapers shouldn't keep quiet about what they're doing. Their new economic model is all about keeping the pipeline flowing, and they shouldn't be shy about spreading the word.

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