Grant programs help local businesses, keep newspapers going

Tom Silvestri

Aug 14, 2020


If there’s been a bright spot in newspaper advertising — and for community support — it’s been the grant programs.

Or that’s at least what several newspapers and their companies are saying.

The pandemic has ushered in what is essentially a matching program to convince local advertisers to stay in newspapers and on their websites. In turn, the newspapers smartly tout their products as marketing solutions while sending lifelines to struggling businesses that are the heartbeat of local economies.

Testimonials for grant programs can be heard lately on industry webinars focused on ad revenue and in updates on how various companies are confronting the coronavirus-caused shutdowns that cratered advertising.

Several versions of a grant program are being used. (Check newspaper websites for specific details.) But for the most part, it can work like this:

Commit what you spent in a designated month last year and the newspaper match that amount. So if you spent $10,000 in May 2019 and commit to that amount this year, the newspaper matches the buy so the total marketing value becomes $20,000. Advertisers are given a period to run and are encouraged to appear at least weekly to maintain frequency.

Clients have to apply by filing out an application. Upon quick review, the newspaper then “awards” the grant. Minimum and maximum grant amounts are set.

The initiative sets an overall conclusion so it appears as a limited benefit to drive interest as soon as possible.

Some newspapers branded the grant program “Shop Local,” “We’re Back” or “Business Stimulus” to show support for locally owned businesses struggling with the COVID-19 disruptions. Others added messages about how much the newspaper is pulling for their fellow local enterprises.

To drive meaningful revenue, newspaper companies set lofty goals – no surprise given some of huge declines since April – and later happily reported hitting them. “$1,000,000 IN MATCHING REACHED,” Ogden Newspapers notes on its website, for example.

Newspapers that are successful with grant programs are quick to offer helpful advice to those mulling such a revenue plan. These types of victories in challenging times are great to see.

Congratulations to those who never give up.

Tom Silvestri, most recently president and publisher of the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch, is the executive director of the Relevance Project, the joint effort of the Newspaper Association Managers strengthen the industry’s unique role as the provider of quality journalism and the keeper of public forums for thousands of communities across the continent. NAM is a group of state, regional and national press associations across the U.S. and Canada.