Selling The Really Fine Print
Notice anything new about the Star Tribune business section? Public notice ads—long, dense classified ads with copious copy and legalese—are a recent addition to the business pages. The paper started an effort to attract those ads in 2016, says Paul Kasbohm, the Star Tribune’s senior vice president and chief revenue officer.
The most common public notices are announcements detailing a pending mortgage foreclosure sale. Others might address settling debts of someone who has died, or government information where notices are required. Kasbohm says that the Star Tribune is primarily, but not exclusively, chasing foreclosure notices.
“We’ve just taken a look at the legal notice business as a whole,” says Kasbohm, who says that they saw a notable local market, but the paper was capturing little of that revenue. Kasbohm declines to disclose revenue figures, but says that the newspaper is posting double-digit percentage growth in both revenue and volume for public notice advertising.
Publishing a public notice is a legally required part of the mortgage foreclosure process in Minnesota. Those ads are typically purchased by law firms, which represent lenders. State law mandates that the notice must be published in a “qualified newspaper.”
Finance & Commerce has long been the dominant public notice publication in Minneapolis. The venerable title is the official newspaper for both the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. F&C publisher Bill Gaier declined comment on the Star Tribune’s sudden interest in the advertising niche.
Kasbohm acknowledges that the paper has not, until recently, paid much attention to public notice advertising, which runs in the classified section. If business fell from the sky, they’d take it: “The phone would ring,” says Kasbohm. “We’d answer it.”
Media attorney Mark Anfinson, longtime lobbyist for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, says there have been efforts for more than a decade to take notices online without requiring print publication. But he argues that there remains a “public value” to printing notices.
“It’s never passed,” says Anfinson of legislative efforts to change the law. “Notices are important to the general public.”
The Star Tribune’s recent efforts to draw public notice ads underscore the current media climate, which is challenging for print publishers everywhere. “With the changing advertising landscape,” says Kasbohm, “we don’t take things for granted any longer.” —Burl Gilyard