Fostering trust in news media sales: Lessons learned from sibling dynamics


Being the oldest sibling is one of the best things in the world. In adolescence, being the oldest came with some trivial perks, like the front seat of the car and a later bedtime. However, if you’re an older sibling, one instinctual and inherent thing I discovered is paramount with my younger siblings — the responsibility of trust.

Trust is a cornerstone of any sound relationship — at different levels. I was recently reminded of how powerful trust is as it translates into how we conduct business in news media. Sometimes, it’s just about trusting you’ll be who you claim to be. At other times, trust involves accountability and intention, signifying that you have the best interests of your organization, audience and sponsors in the community you serve at heart. At other times, trust means being accountable, focusing on the mission, intention or goodwill, and showing that you genuinely care about the well-being of your organization, audience and sponsors within your community.

Building trust requires communication.

Trust is a foundational element in news media, spanning decades and sometimes even centuries, especially concerning editorial concepts and community connectivity. However, regarding the revenue side of news media, trust is the linchpin for businesses deciding which advertising medium and sponsorship relationships to work closely with to help shape their narrative and value.

Small and midsize communities are flooded with marketing advice, making it crucial for news organizations first to build genuine trust with local and regional businesses. Building trust is a process that takes time and requires consistent effort and dedication, just like building trust with your siblings. Whenever there is a vacuum of trust in communities, I’ve found a general correlating hindrance or underdevelopment of revenue from advertising and sponsorship, particularly for new startup organizations. For instance, I’ve always stressed the importance of highlighting a clear objective and return on investment when talking to potential advertisers. However, no matter how sound your pitch, closing ratios will only improve if there’s trust in you, your company and your intentions.

The challenge lies in becoming comfortable with developing a pragmatic communication strategy to amplify the identity of trust, particularly in news media, where self-promotion, particularly for advertising and sponsorship, tends to take a back seat to more indirect generalized brand recognition. While brand recognition is essential and altruism is a core tenet of journalism, there’s a crucial distinction between simply promoting notions of journalistic service and communicating the value proposition of partnering with a trusted community media outlet. For example, there’s a difference between communicating you’re the number one source for news content and your local community advertising partner. Both points are important but serve two different business functions under the same organizational mission.

Building trust for the sales and revenue side of news media means developing a voice and message that communicates, “We have an engaged audience because of the quality of our journalism.” Therefore, advertising with a news organization can deliver real ROI for sponsors. The challenge of effectively conveying our story and mission threatens the trust we aim to establish in news media ad sales, impacting our standing with business owners and potentially leading to significant revenue loss compared to other advertising mediums.

Building trust requires staying in touch.

Rebuilding trust with advertisers starts with consistent outreach. Think of it like an older brother reminding you to stay in touch or a simple text that says, “I’m here if you ever need to talk.” For news media, this translates to regularly engaging with advertisers through various channels. The key is a systematic approach, where a communication calendar can help build and tell your narrative in a way that builds momentum. It may seem tediously uncomfortable, but consistently communicating your advertising product’s good work, benefits and features amplifies your brand messaging and helps establish your organization as a trusted advertising resource.

You may have excellent advertising products and services, but telling the story of how they benefit advertisers somewhat frequently helps revenue development. This practice is where I’ve seen some revenue and editorial leaders of all levels play a crucial role in championing achievements and the value offered to advertisers in conveying a narrative that builds trust and helps network for opportunities and close new business.

Building trust requires considering your partner’s needs.

Once you’ve established a presence and a preliminary brand of trust through your outbound communication, the next natural phase in developing trust is enhancing your product offering where applicable and thoroughly understanding the needs of the local businesses and potential sponsors for better negotiations. Knowing your product and value and recognizing what sponsors or advertisers seek becomes crucial, ensuring a balanced focus beyond your organization's objectives. Avoid falling into a one-sided perspective and consider what potential partners need. I can’t be someone my younger siblings confide in and trust if I can’t readily identify what they may be looking for at any moment. Similarly, news organizations and news organizations can’t be trusted advertising partners for businesses if they can’t anticipate needs and tailor offerings accordingly. It’s counterintuitive and can create distrust.

Identify your product’s distinctive and compelling aspects to stand out and build trust. Stay informed about the latest advertising concepts and customize your offerings to meet potential sponsors’ needs and interests. Embrace a thoughtful and unique approach to your advertising conversations and negotiations, building trust, demonstrating a genuine understanding of the business and fostering a more productive and mutually beneficial partnership.

Building trust requires transparency.

Strong personal relationships rely on honesty and vulnerability; building trust with advertisers requires transparency. Would you confide in a friend who always presents a perfect facade? In the same way, sponsors and advertisers appreciate media outlets that acknowledge their limitations and strive to be genuine.

Transparency isn’t just about mistakes; it’s about creating a safe space for open communication. By being relatable and acknowledging that we're all human, you foster a connection with your advertising and sponsorship partners. My past experiences when I’ve come up short or had to learn something the hard way are some of my best conversations with my siblings. Being in an industry where we not only deliver the facts but can also share the challenges and triumphs of journalism is one of the most compelling narratives we have in building trust and strengthening journalism's value to the community.

Transparency isn’t just about holding others accountable; it’s also about holding ourselves accountable. By openly acknowledging areas for improvement alongside successes, we demonstrate a commitment to learning, growing and building continuity and trust with those who are dedicated members of the community and invested in serving the greater good.

In today’s landscape, revenue development is intrinsically linked to a news organization’s content quality and community engagement, which are the keys to a sustainable news organization. By openly communicating this commitment, we build trust and demonstrate value as an advertising partner, attract mission-aligned sponsors and create a win-win situation. Advertisers reach an engaged and loyal audience, and the news organization thrives while serving the entire community. This becomes the driving force behind the desire to evolve and serve everyone better. Trust fuels the ambition and the mutually beneficial partnerships with businesses in the community. As with any strong sibling bond, this mutual benefit fosters a thriving and impactful relationship for years.

Richard E. Brown is a News Media Alliance Rising Star recipient, the former director of renewals and digital sales strategy at LPi, and the former director of digital operations and sales of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He recently served as the head of digital subscriber churn for Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK and is the former senior director of retention for The Daily Beast. He is a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation and is the owner of RE Media Holdings, LLC. Richard is available for consulting and can be reached at


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