Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

Make the Most of Your Legal Revenue

A webinar with Janet DeGeorge
It’s quite possible you aren’t well versed in legal advertising to begin with, let alone how to adequately take advantage of it in order to boost revenue in your department.

In a Brainworks webinar on Aug. 21, 2012, Janet DeGeorge brought legal ads to the forefront of the newspaper advertising conversation. We will take a look at DeGeorge’s thoughts and advice for legal advertising and explore the best practices and ways to generate revenue in your department. DeGeorge discussed a few scenarios your department may currently be facing when it comes to legal advertising. She suggested that after several years of strong, consistent legal revenue, it is now decreasing and you don’t know why or how to prevent it. She suggested that one reason legal revenue is on a decline is because you might just not know everything you need to know about legal advertising, the process and current state laws. She took all of these scenarios and then broke down everything you do need to know in order to make the most out of your legal ads. Read on to learn everything DeGeorge had to say during her webinar, “Increasing Legal Revenue.”

What Are Public Notices?

It’s quite possible you aren’t well versed in legal advertising to begin with, let alone how to adequately take advantage of it in order to boost revenue in your department. DeGeorge began by explaining the basics of legal advertising. Legal ads, or more specifically, public notices, advertise the on-goings in your community that are of public concern. DeGeorge offered a few examples, including a restaurant applying for a liquor license, tax proposals and estate sales. She went on to describe the four defining qualities of public notices. Firstly, federal law requires that public notices be published in a medium separate from the government — that means your newspaper! Second, public notices are required to be archived and available to the public, but beyond that, they also must be available to all of society, not just your community or local institutions. Lastly, DeGeorge said that there must be verifiable evidence that the public notice was published, and therefore, the information was released to the public.

DeGeorge then expanded on the three types of public notices:

1. Citizen participation: DeGeorge defined this type of public notice as a way to inform the public of government activities, and therefore giving citizens a chance to respond if they feel so inclined. Some examples she offered include changes in the government budget, public hearings and rezoning.

2. Business and commerce: These public notices address the activities of local businesses that are of concern to the community. This includes companies looking to start new business, those that are about to shut down their business and lastly — what DeGeorge notes are the most popular form of public notices — notices of unclaimed property.

3. Court notices: Finally, these notices alert the public of non-governmental activities that use public institutions or abilities in some fashion. Some examples include foreclosures, probating wills and trustee sales.

Getting to Know Your State Laws

Maybe you’re perfectly aware of public notices and legal advertising, but perhaps you are not up-to-date on your state laws, which dictate what your legal ads look and sound like and how much you can charge for them. These laws change every year and vary state-to-state, so it’s vital that you keep up with them, because the changes may even be to the benefit of your newspaper. In fact, you may be losing money if you are still abiding by outdated laws. For instance, your state laws may determine the type size for your legal ads. DeGeorge points out that, depending on your state law, it could say anything from “classified type size,” “regular newspaper type” or specify a numeric font size. Similarly, if your state law requires you to charge per inch, it’s important to figure out if the law means the retail, classified or editorial inch. Whether it is by line or by inch, these nuances in your state law could mean the difference in your charging system, and consequently, your revenue.

DeGeorge goes on to explain that you only have to charge the same for all types of legal ads if your state law requires one consistent rate. If that’s not the case, it’s possible that you could, for example, create different rates for non-government and government ads for businesses, or your rates for public corporations may be different than the rest of your rates.

With over 30,000 state and federal laws regarding public notices, it may seem daunting to discover and synthesize all of your state’s regulations when trying to publish them in your paper. DeGeorge pointed to State Newspaper Associations as the resource that should not only provide you with the information you need, but also simplify the process. However, that’s not always the case. As DeGeorge explained, “Not all State Associations are made equally.” Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure that your State Association makes all the information you need available and easily searchable.

Make It Easy for Clients and Readers

In order to really hone in on the legal revenue that is available to your ad department, DeGeorge asked the attendees to take a critical look at their paper’s process for placing the ads. Is it easy for the customer or is it a tedious and confusing process? She encouraged papers to create timely 24-hour deadlines or at least match the deadlines of their classifieds. She also implored papers to offer electronic tearsheets and affidavits and to process the affidavits and credits promptly after publication.

DeGeorge also emphasized the importance of making the ads easily searchable for readers, since everyday readers discover acts of government fraud and corruption by reading public notices. For example, your paper should color code the banners in both print and online. Therefore, the banner for your legal ads should be the same color it is on the website, so readers grow accustomed to that color scheme and eventually know what they’re looking at without having to read the title of the page. Moreover, you should categorize the different types of legal ads, such as public notices, summons and auctions.

Boost Your Revenue

Finally, DeGeorge explained that if you want to make the most of the potential revenue in legal ads, you must approach them with the same vigorous sales techniques that you use when pursuing the rest of your classifieds. First and foremost, make sure you know all of the possible leads that have a need to publish legal ads, including (but certainly not limited to!) government offices, schools, police and fire departments, as well as lawyers who deal with adoptions, bankruptcy and estate sales (just to name a few). DeGeorge suggests creating individual rating systems and charts for all of these categories.

She also said that in order to pursue all possible avenues, you must be willing to go above and beyond your own area, as the state law permits. The federal law states that if there isn’t a newspaper in the location where the legal action or proceeding occurred, then any publication in the area that meets the duties and requirements of a newspaper and is published more than once a week may publish the public notice. If no such publication exists, then the newspaper closest to the location has the right to publish it.

DeGeorge also noted that you must take the entire process of placing legal ads into account and charge for the services accordingly. If you are doing extra legwork, you should perhaps be charging extra for services like proof of publication tearsheets and affidavits.

Again, DeGeorge says that you must be equally aggressive in the pursuit of legal ads as you are when pursuing classifieds. She suggests attending public meetings discussing matters that may require legal ads, offer a legal media kit and as you would for your classifieds, ask for referrals, set up in-person meetings and send out thank-you cards. And perhaps most importantly, DeGeorge says you must promote your legal ad services as much as you promote your regular classified services. Highlight the importance of public notices in the area and how they serve as a key information source for the public and governmental on-goings of the community.