By Michele McLellan

"Half an hour of web ads" By Daniel Oines, Flickr, used under CC BY / Cropped from original

This report offers a collection of “best practices” for building ad revenue at local news and niche topic media organizations, based on the experiences of 22 digital publishers. Among the key findings: Startups need to professionalize their sales operations quickly, rather than expect staff with editorial backgrounds and responsibilities to handle the job.

Table of Contents



Who We Surveyed and Why

Executive Summary
Chapter 1: Build a Professional Sales Force

Build a Professional Sales Force

  • Recruit Professional Sales Expertise
  • Recruit a Business Partner
  • Be Persistent in Recruiting Sales People
  • Tap into Community, Readership for Sales People
  • Offer Competitive Compensation
  • Hire the Right People: Sales Skills
  • Make Sure Part-Time Sales People Are Committed
  • Employ More Editorial Freelancers When the Publisher Focuses on Sales
  • Do Not Delay in Developing Sales
Chapter 2: Identify and Target Potential Adertisers

Identify and Target Potential Advertisers

  • Mine Community Connections to Identify Prospective Advertisers
  • Grow Your Business Network
  • Use Editorial Contacts to Identify Advertisers
  • Focus on Direct Sales
  • Beware of Ad Networks
  • Develop Your Pitch
  • Grow Territory, Audience
Chapter 3: Standardize Rates and Sales Routines

Standardize Rates and Sales Routines

  • Stick With A Rate Structure
  • Offer Incentives for Long-Term Contracts
  • Create a Rate Card
  • Manage Your Team and Your Pipeline
  • Avoid Cold Calls
  • Develop a Sales Routine
  • Do Not Underestimate the Difficulty of Ad Sales

Send Us Your Feedback & Learn More About the Firms We Studied

Please send us your feedback on this report, and suggestions for future Tow-Knight Center research. Also click here if you’d like to learn more about the firms we surveyed to conduct this research, including links to their online media kits and rate cards.

About the Author

Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem, whether it is online news start ups working to become sustainable or traditional news organizations that are trying to shape their new role in the digital world. In addition to being the senior program consultant for Knight Digital Media Center, Michele has served as a Knight Community Information Challenge Circuit Rider who advises community foundations that are supporting news and information projects in their areas. She founded the Block by Block Community News Summit for independent online community publishers and she created and publishes Michele’s List, a database of promising local news start ups, in collaboration with the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalsm.

Previously, she directed a $2.5 million Knight Foundation project that demonstrated the link between strategic newsroom training, newsroom culture and a news organization’s ability to adapt and innovate. She is an author of two books and numerous studies on leadership and the emerging news landscape. She was a  Nieman Fellow at Harvard Unviersity in 2001-002 and a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism in 2009-10.