"Hey, you! Yes, you! Over here! It's me, your local newspaper, and I'm still relevant."

"Not to me," you mutter to yourself, but then you wonder. Is it possible that your latest marketing strategy missed a significant portion of your customer base? No one reads newspapers anymore, do they?

Of course, they do.

Memes abound bemoaning the decline in reading dead-tree publications, but it only takes a few minutes to discover that the people pushing these narratives have it completely wrong. People read, but the plugged-in lifestyle has redefined where and how that reading actually happens. Before you waste your time combing through garbled search results for "place ad in newspaper for free," and "post ad on newspaper," rethink what it means to market your business through newspaper ads.

Redefine, and the Rest Will Follow

In order to run free advertisements for business purposes, you have to get a little creative. Direct appeals such as "Fantastic Labor Day Sellathon!" will cost the same rates as any other merchant's ad and garner the same yawns as last year's blurbs. Instead of sales copy, write something that will snag the editorial staff's attention while entertaining, educating or assisting the community.

For example, the Biloxi Sun Herald in Mississippi allows anyone to post four free ads every week with the following restrictions:

  • One item per ad.
  • Each ad must include a clear, accurate price.
  • Nothing priced over $100.
  • No plants or animals.
  • No personal items.
  • No food.
  • No services, such as babysitting, landscaping services or DIY.

In other words, if you want to advertise a preschool, instant tree planting business or rent-a-hubby service for free, you cannot. However, the Sun Herald would allow you to place an ad for a free children's matinee at your preschool, announce the winner of a lawnmower giveaway or hold a fundraiser for elderly homeowners. Use photos from last year's event if you have any, and take plenty of photos at the current event. Make the event even more newsworthy and invite local politicians, sports heroes, teachers or safety service workers to the event as well.

Photos Make It Stand Out

Pictures have greater value than text-only ads. Using the previous example, the Sun Herald allows up to 10 gifs, jpg or png files of up to 2 MB apiece. The photos will display along with your online advertisement, but unfortunately, not in print. Although the first two lines run free, any additional text will cost $5 per line, so use tweet etiquette and keep the message long enough to make sense and short enough to remain free.

New York Times 

In contrast, the cost of running an advertisement on the op-ed page of the New York Times might give any small-town American business owner a heart attack from the sticker shock. The Times charges $53,455 for a single nationwide, weekday impression as of Jan. 1, 2019. If you have a five-figure budget and would love to attract thousands of tourists to your shop during next year's "Cruisin' the Coast", "Thunder Over the Bay" or "Blessing of the Fleet", you can blow it all on that single throw of the advertising dice. Just how lucky do you feel?

Using Abbreviations Effectively 

You see some weird things in newspaper ads, sometimes. "Free ads newspaper contact no," appears on your phone screen while scrolling through the barrage of texts, reminders and notifications you receive every few minutes and you scratch your head. What in the name of vaguebooking does that bizarre message mean? No means no, right? Not this time.

If you write down the word no, most people will assume that you mean "the opposite of yes." However, early newspaper typesetters needed to differentiate the opposite of yes from an abbreviation of the Latin word for number, or "numero." Instead of using the ambiguous word "no," typesetters started using a capital N followed by an underlined small letter o, with or without an accompanying period to distinguish between the two meanings.

To make matters even more confusing, the o appears in several different positions. For example, old-fashioned newspaper broadsheet printers sometimes set the letter o at the top right of the N as a superscript. You can still find examples of the modern abbreviation for the "numero" symbol all around the world, including on standard wooden pencils, where the o always has an underline, or in the address of the Office of the British Prime Minister, No. 10 Downing Street.

Budding Journalists Need Beats 

Arizona State University has the famous Walter Cronkite School of Journalism on its Phoenix, Arizona, campus, but most schools in the United States do not have that privilege. Budding student journalists need beats, so let them cut their teeth writing about you and your business.

Give those aspiring Anderson Coopers and dedicated Diane Sawyers an incentive to mention your business in every issue. Consequently, be first in line to sponsor the debate team or pay off student lunch debts. In addition, you could underwrite the costs of the yearbook or donate concession-stand supplies to the Band Boosters.

Through your generosity, your free newspaper advertisements reach the eyes of potential customers whose pockets will open wide. Watch your company name pop up in op-ed pieces in your hometown newspaper as well. Be the business owner responsible for enabling an entire graduating class to afford their caps and gowns or receive their high school diplomas debt-free, and your doors will barely have time to close between customers.

Turn Up for Volunteer Events 

Speaking of the Band Boosters, do not underestimate the value of manning the stand yourself. Join the PTA and the Fair Board, for example. Walk or ride in local parades, wash dishes on bingo night at the VFW, chop vegetables for the weekly community meal at a neighborhood church or sort donations at your local food bank. Being a visible part of the solution to the problems of everyday people in your community means people see their purchases from you as donations to favorite causes instead of bills.

Get Creative With Events

Go to jail. No, really. That or go soak your head. Agree to get locked up or knocked down so that local schools, festival committees and charities can raise funds. Such family-friendly events draw larger crowds than a ho-hum grand reopening ever could.

You can agree to stay in jail until you call enough donors to post your bail or you can don a swimsuit and get soaked if you can goad enough people to throw a few softballs at the dunk tank target. Ideally, hold the dunk tank event on-site and give everyone three balls apiece for attending the event.

Hold Recurring Events

Nothing sparks buzz and provides an excuse for free advertising like holding a recurring event. Invite local clubs to use your conference rooms for weekly events such as painting miniatures or learning some other new craft. Alternatively, hold a weekly luncheon where you and your fellow business owners mentor local high school students in the challenges of entrepreneurship, financing startup costs and matching their course selections for the next semester to specific business-related educational needs.

Sponsor readathons or sports days, buy uniforms for the cheerleading squad or equip the new computer lab with equipment from your old call center. No matter what you decide, invite the press every time and run a live feed during each event, complete with prizes for event attendees and live-feed viewers alike.

With creative marketing, not only will your placement in the newspaper be free of charge to you, but it will receive better positioning than those paying for regular-old advertisements.