Advertising with the Amish
Any publisher worth his (or her) salt will tell you the fiscal backbone of a successful newspaper is advertising. As the bottom fell out of this market in papers from London to St Louis over the last two years, many established titles have suffered, and some have even gone to print for the very last time. Former classified advertisers are moving online to fill the pockets of E-Bay and Gum Tree, while major advertisers tighten their belts in the face of global economic doom. Newspapers have been forced to slash staff numbers or adopt other drastic cost-cutting measures. When I went to visit the offices of Ohio daily the Times-Reporter earlier this week, I was saddened to see a large newsroom littered with empty desks, and a down-hearted editor describe how the most recent round of redundancies reduced his staff journalists from 25 to 18. On the plus side, he said, they were still managing to get a paper out each day.
So it was heartening to hear that the Budget (a weekly paper with a lower circulation than the Times-Reporter in the local area) has so far been riding out the great advertising crash with relative ease. I talked to the Budget’s production and advertising manager Kim Petry about the changes she has seen over the last few years, and she voiced the belief that their buoyant advertising could be attributed to the Amish readership of their national edition (the section of the paper catering purely for Amish Mennonite communities).
“The advertising drop here is not as severe as in most papers. We have the benefit of Amish readers and advertisers, and they do help the paper to stay afloat. For example, the Amish are into their home and herbal remedies and that just does not seem to have been hit at all.”
While the recession has reached all corners of the world – and Amish communities are no exception – the fact that a large majority do not have the internet in their homes means the Budget’s classified section continues to perform strongly. Other Amish advertising also remains largely unaffected because, as the foremost Amish Mennonite newspaper in the world (although not the onlyone of its kind being printed in America, such as the Pennsylvania based Die Botschaft), the Budget can guaruntee advertisers a stable demographic that they are not losing to television, radio or the web. As publisher Keith Rathbun put it:
“If you want to reach the Amish Mennonite communities, there is not a more effective way to do it than advertise in the Budget.”
There aren’t many papers that could still make that guaruntee today. There are of course some fluctuations in advertising patterns. Kim pointed out her staff have been going home early over the last few weeks because of the change in the seasons:
“The amount of work does vary, but it depends on the season as to how much there is. At the moment, they [the Amish communities] are in their fields and gardens, or travelling to see family for weddings and visits. I can really tell when the farming starts, because the advertising does drop off, and so do the letters. But then when the seasons change, it picks back up again because people aren’t so busy and they remember to send their ad in each week.”
Keith also pointed out a substantial number of their regulars have reduced the amount of inches they purchase, and pagination has sometimes been cut slightly as a result. But generally these reductions simply leave room for new clients. With an increasing number of Amish families unable to support themselves on farming revenue alone, a whole range of secondary businesses – from basket weaving to Amish restaurants – have sprung up and also need advertising.
There are restrictions on what can be advertised in the Amish section of the paper – there are no ads for alcohol or birth control, and the advertising team have to stay alert for advertisers with less than honest intentions. There have been cases where Amish families have been scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars by schemes appearing to cater for their wants and needs. But Keith believes it is this kind of vigilance, and a deep understanding of their readership, that keeps them afloat at a time when everyone else seems to be sinking fast.
“[With larger papers] they don’t know who owns Joe’s Beverages, but they talk to Starbucks. They can’t get small enough to know what their readers really want, and it’s important we do this to remain a successul community paper for our Amish and English readers.”