Phillip Fulmer jokes and the economy.
You can ask me to list 10, 20 or 100 things I am tired of hearing, and I would simply repeat the two items above over and over again.
One of those, however, is much more troubling than the other. The jokes about an excellent coach who has given so much to my alma mater, our community and our region raise my ire and make me angry. But Coach Fulmer is a big guy with broad shoulders who didn’t count on the praise of fickle fans in good days and won’t be torn down by their criticism.
The troubling one is, of course, the struggling economy. I’m a Pollyanna sort, so I tried for a long while to deny how bad it was -- even as my personal pocketbook groaned every time I pulled into the gas station or went through the grocery store check-out line. “It will get better,” I kept telling myself and anyone who would listen.
But denial got harder as the tentacles of the struggling marketplace reached deeper.
The sales team here at Blount Today were on the front lines, talking to our customers, working with them as they tried to keep visibility while still paying the bills. Many of our regular partners in advertising at Blount Today are astute businessmen and women. They know that getting the word out -- i.e. advertising -- isn’t the first thing you should cut when business is on a downward slope. They know that there are things people need, things people are going to do, things people are not going to give up, and advertising guides those people into their places of business to do those things. Visibility is important when times are bad, as is pointing out to the consumer what you, as a business owner, do best.
Newspaper are, however, hit just as hard -- and sometimes harder -- when economic conditions are bad and consumer confidence is low. Even if you want to advertise, you can’t spend what you don’t have, so newspaper revenue suffers right along with everything else.
Larger newspapers often raise their rates to combat their increased costs. Newsprint and ink are always going up. Employee benefit packages keep creeping up. Distribution begins to cost more. Like any business, when it costs more to produce your product, the extra cost is passed on to the ones paying for your service. It just makes sense. If you get fewer customers but they pay higher rates, isn’t that a decent trade-off?
Small community newspapers like Blount Today, however, are in a quandary. Everything we have to pay for is going up, too, but our customers are often different from our big city neighbors. Many of them are small business owners -- whether they be realtors, community bankers, markets, jewelry stores, restaurants or other retail store owners.
How can I send our sales staff out to these folks with a rate increase? If they have chosen Blount Today as an effective means to attract paying customers, shouldn’t we stick with them in these hard times?
Of course we should, and of course we will. Blount Today was built on the loyalty and faith of Blount County business owners who liked what we stood for, appreciated our quality and decided to support this new endeavor. I believe we have come through for these businesses and all the others who have advertised with us. Week after week we work our buns off to make sure the newspaper you receive is worthy of your time and attention as a reader and worthy of your advertisement as a customer. We certainly aren’t perfect, but it’s not for a lack of effort or caring.
Some of the sacrifices we have to make frustrate us. I have gotten so creative in cutting business expenses and squeezing a dime that Scotland is thinking of making me an honorary citizen. What is hard on all of us here at Blount Today is not being able to get as much in the weekly paper as we want to. So many great Blount County events have to wait a week, two weeks -- okay, even longer -- before we can find a page to put them on.
And we don’t like the shortcuts we have to take sometimes to save money and keep our page count in line with our revenue. If I have eight great pictures of an event, I like to use them all. Lately, four go in the paper and the other four are seen only on our website.
It has been encouraging, however, to witness the patience and understanding you, our readers, have. If you see us at an event, and it isn’t in the paper the next week, you may call, but you always understand. We appreciate that.
Maybe it’s because you are Blount Countians. Just good folks who appreciate a community newspaper. Yes, I think that’s it. And I think I can go back to my Pollyanna view.
Sherri Gardner Howell