Dear Readers,

It’s an interesting word that means something different to different people. Deadhead. To my son, it’s a Jerry Garcia fan. To his mom, it’s a free ad.

I’m not real sure where the jargon came from as it relates to newspapers. There were plenty more Garcia references in a Google search than newspaper meanings. I suspect it’s an old theater term -- as deadheading used to mean getting in for free.

At any rate, I much prefer “sponsorships,” which is truly what happens when Blount Today decides to give away ads -- which, remember, are currently our only bread-and-butter. The accounting report will say “deadhead,” but we talk about sponsorships.

I have many ways to measure our success at Blount Today, as we look at celebrating the big 5 years in late 2009. Some are very personal. Some are very practical. The powers-that-be wish I would just stick to the balance sheet, but success isn’t always measured on ledgers.

One of the ways I measure our success at Blount Today is by the number of requests we get to join as a sponsor for a group or event that needs help promoting itself or the event, and simply doesn’t have money to pay for ads. Truthfully, when Blount Today first began, I couldn’t give a sponsorship away. The only “deadheads” on my weekly ad report was for Arfnets, advertising dogs and cats that needed homes. We only got that one because Tessa, our graphics guru, was a volunteer and foster mom for them.

Folks just weren’t sure anyone would read Blount Today, and, no matter how free the ads were, how could they help them if no one read the paper?

Add to that the policy of all newspapers, at least every newspaper I’ve ever known, to insist on exclusive sponsorships, meaning you have to pick which paper in a community you want to be on your team. Folks just weren’t beating our doors down asking for freebies.

Our first big ones, matter-of-fact, was inherited. The News Sentinel had always partnered with Parks & Rec to sponsor the Smoky Mountain Classic and Hometown Christmas. Now that little sister was here, they decided to give those two sponsorships to us.

We were thrilled. Parks & Rec, not so sure. But since Parks & Rec is one of the precious few sponsorships that actually get cash from us in addition to free ads, Joe Huff and company decided to give it a try. We sweetened the pot the first year of the Classic by jointly sponsoring with the Sentinel so Joe could draw those West Knoxville softball fans to the tournament.

The tournament and Hometown Christmas did just fine. Seems folks -- lots of folks -- were reading Blount Today, and our all-color ads were attracting lots of attention. I quickly went from no requests to too many. You see, I hate saying No, but there is that ledger sheet to worry about.

Our favorite thing at Blount Today is to champion a “new” event. We feel it is a true measure of how well we get the word out. We’ve taken on some doozies, and I’ve held my breath more than once as the door opened or the curtain rose or the ticket sales began. To date, I have had only one group who didn’t feel we were doing enough and left us. They are still successful in their new sponsorships, but, in my heart, I know we helped build that base for them, so all is okay.

So what do newspapers get out of “deadheads?” Well, there are those warm feelings and the knowledge that you are helping make a difference, but those are more important to me than they are the keepers of the ledger sheets. What we do get is exposure. It’s a Coca-Cola thing. Every time I can get my banner up at an event, get our logo in a newsletter, a mail out or -- glory-be -- on a T-shirt, it helps reinforce that Blount Today is here, viable, relevant and being a good community citizen to boot.

I think it’s a good trade. So pick me out a tie-dyed shirt and give me those little round glasses. Deadheads are here to stay at Blount Today.

Sherri Gardner Howell


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