Handing out papers builds overall awareness of the product

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— and motivates rack pickups

By David Simpson
Director of Student Media
Georgia Southern University

If you want a college student to read a newspaper, hand it to her.
That may not sound profound, but it’s the most important lesson I’ve learned about circulation at two colleges where I’ve worked.

David Simpson of Georgia Southern University enjoying the New York tabloid experience while attending the National College Media Convention. Photo by Sabastian Wee.

At Georgia Southern University, we were printing 3,500 copies of The George-Anne newspaper on Tuesdays and 4,500 on Thursdays (for an enrollment of about 20,000) in January 2014. On some days, a large chunk of those papers remained on racks until they were recycled.

In spring 2015, we printed 5,500 copies on both Tuesday and Thursdays.Returns on a bad day were around 10 percent. The difference was the Street Team.

Eight students on a modest stipend worked two-hour shifts just standing at a busy spot and saying, “Hi, have a newspaper.” Every Tuesday and Thursday, they put 2,800 papers directly into the hands of students. (OK, every now and then there was a problem, but when we were fully staffed and doing it correctly, all those papers were handed out.)

Meanwhile, our rack pickup rates went up. We reduced rack stocks, and the newsroom greatly improved cover design during this period. So I can’t give a definite cause. But my hunch is that handing out papers builds overall awareness of the product and motivates rack pickups.

Maybe you can’t pay students to do this. At my previous institution, editors (and I) did the handouts. They were skeptical at first, but in most cases they found they enjoyed the interaction. When you start, expect a few students to come back and say, “People don’t want to be bothered.” What that means is, “Despite the 50 people who happily took a paper from me, I’m upset because three people were jerks.” Just keep doing it. Our Street Teamers started having “regulars,” just like a New York newsstand might.

Next: Using those people on the sidewalk as social-media savvy marketers!

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