Washington Times Telemarketers Ride Conservative Wave

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The Washington Times, long suffering under the liberal shadow of its cross-town rival, The Washington Post, sees a bright -- and right -- new day coming under the administration of President George W. Bush.


The Times, which makes 95 percent of its home subscription orders via its telemarketing staff, thinks it has gained a new relevancy now that a conservative president is in the White House after eight years of Bill Clinton.


"The Washington Post is so dominant," said Art Farber, circulation director at the Times. "We're a fairly conservative paper in a liberal market."


Farber, who has seen steady circulation increases since he arrived at the paper in May 1999, is hoping that right-leaning readers will come home to the capital's conservative paper. Since he arrived, circulation has increased from about 90,000 to more than 100,000 last year, with a goal of 120,000 by the end of March.


Later this year, the Times plans to telemarket to lists of conservative "opinion leaders," including members of the Bush administration. Besides being suited to a conservative newspaper, these readers are attractive to advertisers that run political advocacy ads and ads in the Times international section.


Telemarketing efforts will also be aimed at the affluent region outside the Beltway, including suburban areas where the population better fits the paper's target demographic of college-educated males with annual incomes of $90,000 or more. These areas generate more than 75 percent of the paper's new orders. Calls will be directed to residents in outlying counties in Maryland and Virginia.


With its 16-workstation call center, staffed by 40 agents, the Times' telemarketing division contacts about 37,000 consumers weekly and gains 800 new subscriptions a week on average, a 2.16 percent close rate. It also uses several outsourced telemarketing companies, which bring in an additional 400 new subscription orders each week on average.


Farber credits circulation increases over the past two years to offers designed to lower customer acquisition costs. Before he arrived, the Times offered consumers 13-week trial subscriptions for $19.95 and charged $29.95 for 13-week renewals.


Farber said he knew such expensive offers would not work. Acquiring a subscriber typically cost $25, but the subscribers consistently failed to renew and had to be reacquired as many as three times in a year. The paper was spending $100 a year to maintain subscribers who often did not even bother to pay their bills.


A veteran of California papers owned by newspaper magnate William Dean Singleton, Farber knew that cheaper home subscriptions would be more cost-effective, even at the expense of circulation revenue. In one case, at The Denver Post, Singleton offered newspaper subscriptions at a penny a day to undercut the competition, the Rocky Mountain News.


At the Times, Farber initiated a new program making yearlong, six-day subscriptions available for $10. The price was later increased to $20 and is now $30. The move has reduced overall subscriber acquisition costs by 75 percent.
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