Newspaper Advertising Guide

Poor old newspapers. They are old fashioned. Flat. Smelly. Get old and crumpled in a day, like I usually feel. (Check the photo. Haven’t I aged since last month?)

People in agency land don’t want to work on Press. The art directors can’t read and the writers in agencies much prefer working on the web (you can ring your mum and tell her you’ve done a new web site, just go to www. and they hate Press because it’s just not glamorous. More important still, it’s not felt to lead to writing TV ads, which is what every decent creative wants to do as a step towards a career in making movies.

The newspaper ought to be more popular. For hundreds of years Press was the main media for ads. It is a powerful medium for building brands. Your brain stores pictures very effectively in still format. So it’s more memorable.  It’s probably the only media outside of the web (or direct mail) where you can give real detail to the punters. It can be targeted. It can be persuasive. It talks one-on-one. It’s a proven performer. But it takes real skill to do Press well. Skills that are dying in agency land faster than the credibility of the Office of the Governor General.

Below I try to list some of the most important of the hundreds of little rules you need to follow to make your press ads really work. Please read these next time your agency wants you to sign off on something you’re unsure about.

What’s Good Creative?

Know your take out

Ask what it is you actually want the punter to do by reading this ad. Do you want them to call you? Do you want them to feel nice about being ripped off? Do you want them to stop using water/children/their own cash? Get a concept that really works to achieve your aim.

Start at the top

Readers look at the pickie, then the headline, then if it intrigues, they read the body copy. Get the right shot. Don’t settle for a dumb headline. A headline that forces the reader to go into the body copy to have the questions raised by it answered, is critical. Go for a funny one if you can, but avoid the one that makes a joke out of the image but doesn’t relate to the product or promise. (ie. “get cracking” with a picture of a cracked egg, for a car sale?) There are many derivations of this approach. They never work because they don’t make sense. The pharmacy industry is sickeningly full of them. For a laugh, check out the AMA Journal for the work of their self-proclaimed ‘specialist’ agencies.

Negative Space

By letting people focus on the image or words by giving them space, you increase their relative importance. White works. So does lots of black. But usually not as much.


People read top left to bottom right. Fact. Let them see your logo last and they’ll remember it more. Logos should always be near the right-hand base line. Shove the phone number above the logo or below it if you want calls.

A long read makes for a quick sale

If you’ve got something to say and it’s pertinent and it might talk the punter into forking out, say it. Long copy sells it’s tits off, done well. It’s an opportunity to really work the theatre of the mind or at least to give people a lot more information than they normally get to make a decision. It takes brains, decent briefing and time to create great copy. Things frequently not available to the average agency writer. If you’ve got no real reason to buy your product or service over the next one, or you can’t think of one, use pretty graphics. But I warn you, few quickies are as memorable as a good long one.

Focus on the punter, not the people

People relate to a person like themselves. (for example, seems obvious, but make sure you use the same sex as your targets.) Ask yourself one question always. Would I respond to that?

Be Seen & Look Nice

Colour in black and white pages stands out. So does B&W in colour. Do anything to be different. Use colour especially if it’s food. Show it as a meal, not ingredients, use the best photographers you can afford and go into the heat-set colour section only. The colour is almost invariably of hideously poor quality anywhere else.

Together Everyone Achieves More

If you’re running TV or outdoor, make them work together, by typeface, promise or the same or a related ad.


Is a dying art. Avoid widows (hanging words at the end of a paragraph). Avoid stretched sentences or those that are squashed up. Never assume that a look that is ‘fashionable’ like words running over other words, will work for you. It don’t. Usually they just make things harder to read. And the art directors feel good about themselves that they are keeping pace with fashion. The rule is, if it looks like someone else’s ad, then it won’t work well for you. You must stand out. You must have your own look.

Use a typeface that is not used by everyone else. (How many times do I have to say it? And they still set stuff in Helvetica.) Set your stuff where possible in serif type. That’s the type with curly bits on the end they use in books. People’s eyes fill in the gaps and it boosts readership. That’s assuming you’ve got copy worth reading.

Kerning is the space between the words and letters. It’s often a very fine balancing act. Correct kerning makes words much more readable.

Leading (taken from the lead metal which  type was originally moulded from) is the space between the lines. More leading makes it easier to read, as it gives each line importance. Too much leading can make it hard for the eye to tie it together.

It’s a balancing act. That’s what I mean by art.

Picture This

Hardly anyone uses illustrations any more. It’s a shame. But they take time. You have to brief someone. You can’t just find them easily on a CD. (I realise you can find anything on a CD, but something that really works for your job/brand is hard.) As they are the result of a person’s imagination, and not simply an interpretation of fact, which photographs are, they have many more possibilities. Unfortunately illustrations can also be expensive, but are well worth considering.

Photography. Shoot your own when you can. You get ownership. You get the real McCoy and you don’t get that really dumb ‘stock shot’ look (capped teeth, perfect, out-of-date hair styles and prozac induced expressions) which people cringe from.


There is nothing sadder than a desperate ad that has everything that might possibly talk a punter into buying something in the ad. It smacks of a lack of discipline and thought. You are only saying that you don’t know what it is you really need to say. The punters eyes glaze over and they move on. They don’t give a hoot if you waste your money. They are reading for the sake of entertainment and education. They want a simple, clever message, regardless of what you think they need to know. Give them a simple ad.

Which News Is Less Limited?

Local Newspaper

Weeklies that are delivered free to people’s homes are great for real estate, for small retailers who can’t afford bigger ads, and for targeting specific readers like owners of big houses in Hawthorn or Double Bay. They are basically delivered along the lines of local council areas. There’s a few like The Melbourne Weekly and equivalents which are delivered across much wider areas, their maps and all other rate & material details are available from their reps. Locals are usually quite cost-effective on a cost per thousand basis.

Locals are easier to get editorial in if it’s handled with diplomacy and the story has a relevant local angle. They are also easy to stand out in, as the competing ads are almost always ugly and dumb (done by the paper’s staff, who’d be working in an agency if they could write or typeset a decent ad)  Readership is oriented to older females.

To really have an impact in a key area, buy a whole page in the local if you can afford it. Or if you’d like to be in regularly, and I do recommend that, buy a series of cute little ads (say 10 cm x 2 col or even smaller) in the middle of the tradesmen section or what ever is relevant to your product/service. (Why is it the banks don’t buy more ads in the real estate section? When is it you would consider a bank more than when you are wondering if /how you can afford the 2 acre cottage in Toorak or Point Piper?).


The big guns of the press world. Can hit millions in a day. Can be bloody expensive at $99.00 a column centimetre (Is that really the Herald Sun casual rate this week?). Works well with TV. Editorial staff think they are above manipulation by clients. That’s why you type ‘Media Release’ on the top of the page.

There’s a million ways you can buy. Try small regular ads. Or medium sized, say half page, punchy ads. Or Double Page Spreads if you afford them. One good DPS is often more effective than a serious TV campaign. At a fraction of the cost.

You have a myriad of options for shape too, so don’t settle for a simple format because it’s easier for the paper. Your main fight about the size and shape you want is with editorial. This is because the journalists, who, although unqualified for it, decide how things should look and they hate the reps (It’s a class thing hanging over from another century. The journos think they are honest, left-wing intellectuals dirtying their hands while working for a robber baron, the reps think they are well-bred business professionals working for an ‘entrepreneur’, hampered by left wing radicals. The poor journalists are caught in all sorts of little contradictions. While feeling sure they shouldn’t discriminate, they are convinced they are more important than TV journos who aren’t really to be taken seriously because hey, they got the job on their looks.) so there’s absolutely no cooperation between the Journos and the reps. Which makes it hard to do the sort of juicy joint deals with editorial that the TV stations can organise so easily.


There’s only a few; The Australian, The Fin Rev. Ads are rarely relevant to most readers. But then again, when are they? Good for hitting company directors and frequent flyers. Nice vehicle if you need to impress your board. Many is the ad run with this in mind.

Daily Freebies

The young darlings of the press world, MX and equivalents take style from the give aways you find in coffee bars which have run band & venue’s ads for years. They are a more groovy environment, but the principles remain exactly the same. Have an idea. Say it in a unique way. Use a typeface that stands out….

Cost Per Person

The newspaper will give you all sorts of stuff about who they reckon reads their rags. (Their newspaper amazingly always looks like the best deal. Until you look at the other guys stats.) Work out what percentage of their readership are your targets, then compare that against the opposing papers for your cost-per-reader. Buy the most cost effective. Explain to the reps this is what you are doing. I’m always thrilled how a little competition goes a long way with a commission-based person.

Space for Sale

You buy press by the area. Column centimetres. Columns being the verticals of type they typically break articles into, centimetres being the height of the columns. They add a ‘loading’ for exact location, right-hand page, more read spots like inside front, back or centre spread. They are often worth the extra money as they get much better readership, but try not to pay quite the loading they ask.

Buy Your Environment

The flavour or environment of a paper (or a section within it) creates an expectation in the readers mind. Seek a fit with the environment. ‘Lifestyle’ if you’re in homewares, ‘Body & Soul’ if you’re in pharmacy etc. Don’t just buy a rag because it’s cheap. It may make you look that way too.

A Drip Beats a Flood

It’s like a garden that gets regular watering. Even tiny little ads placed often will do better than a large ad placed rarely. But be consistent in location within the paper. Frequency of location buys you credibility. And if they have seen an ad often enough, people recall it.

Escape to an Island

Grabbing a space right smack in the middle of a big slab of type works. The middle of the stock market report in the Financial Review is a nice buy. If your product relates to singles or is just ‘sexy’, like a new car, try an island ad in the most read part of the local papers, the ‘Connections’ section ie. ‘Male seeking Female’ etc.

Do a Strip For Me

A strip along the bottom of the newspaper page is read more. I don’t know why. But it’s usually easy to get inserted as all they have to do is raise the other ads up a touch.

Jab, jab, jab, PUNCH

Running an ad that develops over 3 or 4 consecutive Right-Hand pages works to build up expectation.

Place Your Hand Right

Ads placed on this side of the page outsell ones placed on the left. I think it’s because when we use a bound ruled pad we usually only write on the right-hand side.

Never Agree to Contracts

Media barons like contracts because it locks you into a long term commitment to them, which means the money goes to them and not to another media. This serves no-one but them. You don’t get a better deal. Sure, 10% off sounds great. But you’ll get that on almost every deal and they’ll try harder if they haven’t got your business, than if they already have.

Distressed is Best

If you want an ad placed cheaply, ring up a few hours before deadline. Even if your agency charges you a fortune to make up the ad in only a few hours, you’re still way better off to buy distressed space than to pay the normal rate.

Tell Your Rep to Take it Off

As the public spends more time looking at pretty pictures on TV and the web and less time reading books, Press will become increasingly less relevant and isolated. Given that it’s unfashionable, but still a very powerful tool, you can use this unpopularity to get a better deal. Ask for one. Then ask again.

What’s Press good for anyway?

You should use Press to launch, if you’ve got a lot of detail to convey. You should use it to support TV when you can’t afford to flight TV ads constantly and you should use it as reminders for retail specials, sales etc. and to work hand-in-hand with Radio; Press providing the vital visual component.

What’s UnimPressive?

Attitude. With only two major players across the whole spectrum of locals, dailies etc., they are complacent. They have out-dated systems for dealing with customers, for handling artwork (try emailing something to the dailies! Any magazine can accept pdf’s, but not them) for settling accounts and worst, they are stuck in a class war (journo’s vs. reps) the rest of the country moved on from years ago. They don’t try to improve things because there ain’t no real competition. And they’re run by rich old men who don’t see a need to do anything new.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to Top