Congratulations to Will Sommer of Georgetown University, who has won our student competition for best idea to save newspaper classifieds (and will be receiving $500 from ReinventingClassifieds.com).
More about Sommer and his idea below. But since he made his entry a multimedia presentation, first take a couple minutes to watch, then read on. (Clicking the image below will open a new window with the presentation on Sommer’s website.)
Sommers, age 20, is a junior at Georgetown majoring in international politics, but he hopes to become a journalist. He says he was prompted to enter the contest because he realizes that classifieds revenues are so important in keeping newspapers solvent, and he sees the industry floundering to find a way to stay in the classifieds game.
To his young eyes, printed newspaper classifieds are unattractive and, frankly, boring. So he calls his concept for saving classifieds “Laughs and Facts,” and suggests that turning them (online and in print) into something more entertaining and fun as well as useful could go a long way toward bringing new readers to classified ads.
The idea is that a classifieds section, whether in print or online, should bring in casual readers who may not be looking for something specific, in addition to the regular crowd of seekers of something specific (new apartment, new car, etc.).
How to do that? First, Sommer suggests, recognize that your newspaper classifieds can’t for the most part complete with Craigslist and its (mostly) free ads. So for many categories, give away classified ads online. But moderate them to keep out the spammers and scammers.
So you’re giving advertisers something, he says, and now it’s time for the advertisers to give something back: entertainment value.
His intriguing idea is to hold ongoing contests for the best ads, where a selection regularly get published in the print edition, get high placement online, and get pushed out via various social network presences and other channels that the newspaper may have, including as pre-rolls for newspaper-produced video. Sellers are encouraged to be creative in crafting their ads.
With funny, entertaining ads showing up in the print edition and elsewhere, the quality of ad content will drive people to the newspaper’s full classifieds online and mobile classifieds services, where they’ll see some category ads that sellers have paid for, and see paid contextual display ads that have been sold around the free classifieds (ads-as-content strategy). Featured “best of” ads placed in editorial sections of the print edition can drive people to open up the full printed classifieds section
Think about it, Sommer says, there’s much precedent for entertaining ads to draw in readers: The New York Times Review of Books for years has had wonderful quirky classified ads that are fun to read; Craigslist is not only functional, but it also has some sections that are fun to read (e.g., “Missed Connections”). Craigslist even has sections of Best Ads that in effect serve an editorial function.
Sommer thinks that his “Laugh and Facts” approach to newspaper classifieds “might just make classifieds the most interesting part of the paper,” and drive readers to full online classifieds as a result. The addition of casual readers introduces new customers for advertisers — folks who didn’t know they wanted something but spotted it serendipitously. Add those people to the individuals who know exactly what they want and go to newspaper classifieds to find it, then you’ve demonstrated that some growth is possible.
And Craig’s advertisers are not the only ones who know how get their ads to stand out with quirkiness and entertainment. Sommer may just have the plan to make newspaper classifieds less boring, and thus more profitable and used more frequently once again!