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Newspaper ad departments, long criticized as "order takers," are looking to establish marketing consultancy relationships with advertisers rather than just sell them space.

Among newspapers recently overhauling their sales operations:

USA Today and The New York Times have reorganized their sales staffs to specialize in selling a particular category of business such as computers/electronics, travel or financial. Before, sales executives handled a variety of accounts within a geographical region.

The New York Times, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal and The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C., have replaced the lone ad sales executive with a sales team. These teams often include marketing and creative-support people who help the ad sales executive service the advertising customer.

Economic realities, driven by the retail shake-up and increased competition from other targeted media, are driving the change in newspaper selling.

"Newspapers realize that they can't just be there and [receive] a lot of business. Those days are gone," said Nick Cannistraro, senior VP-chief marketing officer at the Newspaper Association of America. "Before going in to sell a customer, you have to find out what the customer's needs are. It becomes more a marketing consultancy relationship rather than space sales."

Since 1988, daily newspaper ad revenue has grown slower or fallen faster than the U.S. economy. At the same time, newspapers' dominant ad market share position has been eroded by faster-growing media, especially direct mail.

Daily newspapers had a 23% share of the $131.2 billion ad market in 1993, down from 26% in '89, according to McCann-Erickson Worldwide and Newspaper Association of America estimates. Direct mail had a 20% share in 1993, up from 18% in '89.

Some newspapers that are moving to team selling compensate the entire team for meeting sales goals rather than just the rep.

The Reno Gazette-Journal in 1992 set up nine teams, each with two sales executives, a sales coordinator and an artist. In August, each team added a new-business specialist. All receive a salary plus compensation based on meeting sales goals. The newspaper has seen sales rise about 10% since June 1992, said Advertising Director John Zidich.

Advertisers and the newspapers like the team selling approach that has production people directly involved.

The (Raleigh) News & Observer last October tested putting typesetting people on a team with a sales executive and artists in a bureau office. Ad turnaround time was quicker with fewer errors, said Fred Crisp, VP-general manager.

Jeff Eckstine, special events manager for J.C. Penney Co. in New York, said the team approach at The New York Times and Newsday saves him time. With one appointment, he can explain the company's strategy without having to meet with people who handle run-of-press, co-op and insert advertising.

Some newspapers are also paying more attention to their relationships with ad agencies.

"Generally, newspapers have had an adversarial relationship with ad agencies," said Steve Bernard, VP-advertising director of The Courier Journal, Louisville, Ky. "We waited for agencies to call us, and we thought they know more about our business than they do."

The Courier-Journal, in an attempt to change that, assigned a sales rep to 45 ad agencies and publishes a newsletter to update agencies on happenings. The newspaper has also given away 45 pages to agencies to create ads for non-profit groups. It has sponsored creative seminars and held ad design contests giving away cash and ad pages to winners.

Dollar volume from ad agencies has picked up 15% since mid-1992, Mr. Bernard said.

But media buyers still contend newspapers have a long way to go.

"Newspapers are starting to become more marketing oriented, but it's happening slowly," said Ray Trosan, VP-media director at Long Haymes Carr Lintas, Winston-Salem, N.C. "[Many] papers still just sell space."

"They have to continue to be more adaptable to unique requests and not say it can't be done," said Ruby Gottlieb, senior VP-director of planning research for Horizon Media, New York.

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