local media insider

Paid community events calendar generates revenue, goodwill at The Plain Dealer

Local organizations asked for, and now get, guaranteed events promotion for a small fee

Alisa Cromer
Self-serve entry and addition of print are keys to selling event listings at the Plain Dealer.

Media: The Plain Dealer, Cleveland's metro daily, 11 Sun Community Newspapers and Cleveland.com

Circulation: 250,000 paid-subscription papers daily and 400,000 Sunday. Advance subsidiary Sun News distributes 100,000 community newspapers each Thursday.

Owner: Advance Publications
Market: Northeast Ohio, including the metropolitan cities of Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown.

Population: One million, 80%  homeowners,  median household income of $61,000. 

Initiative: About Town, a paid events calendar in print and online

Key Executive: Shirley Stineman, Director of Marketing and Community Affairs

Challenge: In 2011, local residents and non-profit groups began complaining to the Plain Dealer that their events were not appearing in the print publication and only sporadically, with no commitment to do so, on Cleveland.com.

“We have so many event listings that we get through our website or wherever our editorial team get things from, and of course, we can’t publish them all,” The Plain Dealer director of marketing and community affairs Shirley Stineman said.

“The newsroom simply randomly selects as many as they can accommodate. So, we had readers asking, ‘how do I get this in print, and be sure it is going to appear?’ We decided to guarantee a print and Web listing for an affordable price.”

The executive team saw their might be an opportunity to turn the demand to publish events into a revenue opportunity. But since many of the event producers were small community organizations, an additional challenge was creating ROI from small ticket liner-only ads. 

Strategy: The team came up with the idea for About Town, a paid events calendar that would run both online and in the paper. To be cost-effective the initiative had to meet two criteria:

1. Marketing soley through self-promotion and word of mouth, to eliminate outside  promotional costs.

2. Self-serve online order entry for any listing, eliminating sales commissions.

To build the system, the Plain Dealer used its existing self-serve ad-order system for classifieds.  A minor IT manipulation of the current homegrown AdBaseE served this purpose, saving the cost of platform hosting or development fees.

Ads must be placed on line, but are published both in print and online.

Classified /customer service staff were minimally trained on the platform entry, schedule and fees, in the rare case that a user might need some help with the self-serve order entry system. 


Marketing included online promos with links to order entry; emails to local schools and other organizations; and word-of-mouth promotion to newspaper staff who might belong to local organizations with events to list. 

 “Everybody belongs to a church or some organization that might benefit from and About Town listing,” Stineman said.

Viewers who visit the Cleveland.com events calendar are prompted with a promo:

“Have an event for your group/organization that you’d like to promote? To guarantee that the details of your event will be published in The Plain Dealer in addition to appearing on Cleveland.com, click here for affordable pricing options. To promote your event online only, upload your event information via our free submission tool.”

About Town is also promoted on The Plain Dealer Facebook page and in the paper’s print Entertainment magazinel. Stineman’s team also sends out mailings and emails to area schools, businesses and community organizations.

Sales and scheduling

About Town appears in the Metro section of the print product on Fridays and Sundays, as well as on Cleveland.com, and is sold by both the day and the zone:

Pricing was set at $39 per zone for a Friday-only ad, $45 for Sunday only, or $49 for both Friday and Sunday. A week-long listing on Cleveland.com is included.  Each additional zone adds $40 to the cost, and each additional line is $4 per line per zone.

Sales reps are free to sell About Town, though it is treated as a “last chance downsell” rather than upsell, and reps do not schedule or earn commissions – they merely direct advertisers to the online entry form. 

“It’s definitely being sold to small businesses,” said Stineman. "We thought it would be good for local businesses, and civic and professional organizations - and we’re marketing it as such. If our sales reps attempt to sell a display ad for these events but see they’re not going to sell anything that big, they then fall back to, “You could do About Town.”

 Typically listing include a wide variety of categories:  local theater productions, fairs and festivals, outdoor concerts and charitable walks, runs and bike rides, reunions, classes, concerts, civic programs, book signings, pancake breakfasts and fund raisers.


• About Town has produced incremental revenue nearly effortlessly and brands the publisher as good neighbor to local non-profits and other community organizations. While they’re not keeping track of the first-time or lapsed advertisers About Town is bringing in, Plain Dealer staff sees that small local businesses are the bulk of the buyers. 

“We’re getting lots of listings from arts organizations, community theaters, craft fairs, film festivals, and personal trainers,” said Stineman. 

• Typically 25 paid listings run per day each week.  LMI estimates $850 weekly revenue is a typical one-zone approximation. With advertisers choosing to list their events in multiple zones, that number could double or triple. In fact, an organization that would want to reach the entire eight-zone Plain Dealer DMA, even at the 10-line minimum, would pay $319 minimum to do so. About Town stands to generate at least $45,000-$100,000 annually.

• The Plain Dealer has discontinued  paid print/online listings and is able to sustain its events listings on a paid basis.

Lessons Learned

• Events are line advertising that require self-entry and low marketing costs  for a positive.
• If converting the existing classified self-service online ad entry system is a workable option this initiative is virtual "free" to create.
• Small local businesses and organizations still want to see their events listed in print publications. Especially enamored with print are arts organizations, community theaters, craft fairs, film festivals, and personal trainers.

Our take

Events are an important local media franchise and self-entry is a great way to go. Another self-serve events option is NativeNewsQ from Creative Circle Media Solutions (see the ads on the right of this page). The advantage of these listings is that they are also automated to appear grouped around a map with pin-points of where the event is located.  For local media without a print product, a higher-priced weekly opt-in events email could provide a substitute product - that is event producers could pay for a listing on the email by position.

Many thanks to Shirley Stineman, Director of Marketing and Community Affairs for sharing her 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.

plain dealer, cleveland.com, about town, events calendar, Creative Circle