local media insider

Native content program nets Pamplin Media Group $400,000 in two week sales blitz

Alisa Cromer
Native channel on left rail of home page

 Media: Portland Tribune

Market: Metro Portland, Oregon

Owner: Pamplin Media, 22 newspapers and associated Web properties, in addition to 2 radio stations

Initiative: INSIDERS, a native sponsored-content program

Key Executive: J. Brian Monihan, Vice President and Publisher, Pamplin Media Group

Like many newspaper-based media  companies, Pamplin Media Group wanted to create a native advertising program that fit ithe unique position its 24  newspapers - mostly small markets plus the Portland Orgonian - have in the market, competing with radio and television.  The group wanted to leverage print's strengths to create an editorial-as-advertisement product as a competitive opportunity.


Pamplin decided to create a multi-layered marketing plan to sell a hybrid native advertising and sponsored-content product that features local business experts providing advice to the public.

Their take on the  "experts" program, called "INSIDERS",  gives  advertisers the opportunity to present themselves as authority figures in their space in their local markets,  leveraging the combined reach of the company’s newspaper, website and social media platforms.

“Our format is similar to an Ask the Expert feature,” said Brian Monihan, vice president of Pamplin Media Group.


“An INSIDERS advertiser is considered our local expert in his or her field of business and our INSIDERS writers work with them to create timely story topics. Each client is the sole source interviewed for the story.”

Unlike some broadcast style "Ask the Expert" questionnaire/answer formats, the experts were relied upon as sources for upcoming events and "listicle" style information, written by editorial writers.

Where content lives and how it is identified

INSIDERS stories started out by running in Pamplin’s monthly newspapers and on the papers' websites.

Each website has a dedicated INSIDERS tab and all stories are published and stored there, with visitor access to six months’ worth of stories on the sites.

Pamplin  identifies its INSIDERS content as paid by giving it an separate design, indicating the “advertising feel” graphically,  with each story in a box and featuring the INSIDERS logo.

Above the print page of INSIDERS stories is a header that notes “Advice From Local Experts.”

Online, the INSIDERS promotional channel on the home page  is marked as “Sponsored Content." at the top of the article page "featured story" is used in the bread crumbs; then below the headline stories are identified as “Brought to you by the [Name of Expert],  along with the business’s name and the words  “Category - INSIDERS.”

Another  example,   5 reasons to use a business attorney shows how the story is tagged: "By PMG for The Law Offices of Ken Mitchell-Phillips", and Brought to you by Ken Mitchell-Phillips - The Law Offices of Ken Mitchell-Phillips, P.C.

CMS management and extra distribution

Each story is delivered in the same way that  the news stories are loaded on the website via the content management system. An "Insider's" Channel rotates on the left rail of each community site's home page (see example above).

Within a week of the stories running in in the  newspaper and appearing online, the company publishes a sponsored post on Facebook promoting the story, including the "Brought to you by..." attribution that marks it as paid. 

"The goal is to make sure our clients get as much credit and face time for their stories. We want people talking to our clients about their stories.”

See an example of a typical Facebook post - this one for a local furniture store - below: 



INSIDER packages are sold as year-long programs with a six-month opt-out. The packages start out by including:

• One story per month – online and in print

• ROP ads in the newspaper – up to three per month

• Banner ads online – 20,000 impressions per month

• One Facebook post per month

The Pricing

“We went to market with three different price points and sold the programs on a weekly cost basis,” said Monihan.

“The cost of the programs varied depending on each newspaper’s circulation and the frequency of their marketing program. "

The range of pricing varied from $95 to $200 per week.

"Close to 75 percent of everyone who signed up for the program bought the newspaper’s most expensive package and didn’t even consider looking at other packages. Most of the sales averaged $175 per week or $9,100 per year. Several accounts also bought multiple packages for several newspaper markets.”


Creating the Content - Infrastructure

“To launch this program we decided to hire a team of reporters to generate the native stories,” said Monihan.

“We originally hired three reporters and we are currently looking for a fourth due to our growth. Each reporter had to understand their role of serving the needs of the clients. We had to make sure they understood that if the client wasn’t happy, the program was not going to be successful. Getting clients to respond to interview requests, helping them come up with timely story ideas and then getting them to approve the final stories was a challenge at first, but seems to be getting easier each month.”

Preparing the Roll-out

The INSIDERS program is sold by Pamplin’s sales reps, who sell across all the company’s media platforms, and whose strength has traditionally been selling print advertising. 

In October of 2015, Pamplin hired The Blinder Group to conduct a one-day sales training for all its reps.

“Mike did a great job of explaining the benefits of our program and helped our print reps understand not only how to sell the program, but also who to target, and the benefits of what a consistent advertising program will do for their business,” said Monihan.

During the first two weeks of November of 2015, Pamplin conducted a sales blitz for the INSIDERS program.

The sales reps scheduled approximately 130 appointments with local businesses to explain how the INSIDERS advertising program worked.

“Each sales presentation was led by a digital expert, either Bob Kellagher of Blinder and Associates, or Ian Monihan, Pamplin Media’s own digital guru,” said Monihan.

“The digital experts significantly helped in not only explaining the program, but also in showing our reps how to sell the program. Our initial goal was for each salesperson to sell a minimum of four accounts.

Most have done so, with several shining stars who have sold 12 or more accounts on this program.

Promoting the Program

“We created a house ad that promotes our INSIDERS experts,” said Monihan. “These ads include the expert’s photo and explains his or her field of business expertise. Our idea was the more we can promote their face in our newspapers (and Facebook pages) the more likely they would receive feedback from the community. This aspect has gone over very well with many clients reporting that they have received lots of feedback and new customers.


Most-Receptive Advertiser Categories

“This program has gone over best with service providers,” said Monihan. “We have many advertisers who are health professionals (dentists, doctors, fitness), or work in the financial, insurance, auto or senior care professions.”

Lessons learned

“We offer category exclusivity by newspaper, which was a good selling point, but also a point of confusion and frustration for some of our accounts – especially when we decided to get creative with category headings to bring in similar accounts,” said Monihan. “I would refrain from offering this aspect of the program,” he recommended.

“Preparation is vital to a launch of this type of program. You really want all aspects of the roll-out executed well so all the accounts have a good first impression.  For each account, we provided our reps with a background form we wanted filled out about each business. This was an important starting point for our reporters in writing their first story.

It also helped the sales reps better understand what their clients hoped to achieve with their marketing campaigns. We also asked each reporter to study each account’s website and Facebook page for background and story ideas. We felt the more prepared our reporters were to write these initial stories, the happier our clients would be with the end result.”

“Promoting our INSIDERS on Facebook has also been very valuable. When readers comment that they liked their stories, it makes our clients very happy.

Finally, reporting results should not be overlooked in the rush to market.

"Also, being able to show a client what the reach was for their stories is extremely important. Reporting Facebook reach, web impressions and Google search results are all very important to proving the ROI for this type of marketing program.”


During those two weeks, Pamplin generated more than $400,000 in advertising commitments for 2016.

Within a few months after the drive,  22 of  24 newspapers offered the INSIDER program. Some have more success than others, but the company says it  continues to look for ways to improve this program, simplify the process and show how they "are delivering a better ROI compared to our competition.”

Our take

We like the simplicity  and scalability of this  program - using the metrics of four sales per rep, for a small newspaper it can open a few new steady accounts in the healthcare and services without a lot of additional investment. For regional groups the upside is even greater.  On a national scale, however, better tracking will be required, and some further investment in native serving platforms that track may be needed. Using the Blinder Group is a great way to launch  - it ensures the right training and focus on the roll-out, and that enough appointments are made to ensure a successful result. Blinder sets a minimum requirement for appointments and for  the team to produce a significant ROI. 


Many thanks to J. Brian Monihan, VP and President of Pamplin Meida  for sharing his expertise with us. 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.





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