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Press circulation manager gives preview for Black Friday shoppers

Jennifer Sprouse • Nov 23, 2013 at 10:56 PM

Sure, there’s a turkey, dressing and all of the holiday fixings, but another Thanksgiving Day staple for many is sorting through all those shopping circulars stuffed inside the holiday newspaper.

But before readers can begin to sketch out Black Friday battle plans with family members to catch the big sales, newspapers, including the Johnson City Press, have a lot of work to do.

“It’s definitely our most popular paper of the year,” Press Circulation Manager Phil Hensley said. “The Black Friday ads are huge. People look forward to them. Our duty, our job, is to make sure that we have enough papers for everyone, so that anyone that wants a Thanksgiving paper gets one.”

Hensley said this year’s Thanksgiving Day paper will have 45 inserts and more than 700 pages, which have increased from the last year.

“Last year we had 43 inserts, which was up one from 2011, so this year we’re two up from last year,” he said. “There were 673 insert pages last year, so we’re over 700 this year, which means we have a couple more inserts and we’ve got several more pages of inserts.”

Big chain stores, such as Belk, J.C. Penney, Sears and Kohl’s, will have the biggest circulars this year for the Thanksgiving edition, Hensley said.

As inserts continue to increase for the Thanksgiving paper each year, so does the preparation time.

“As far as the packaging of it, we start putting it together and planning it out about mid-October,” said Tim Archer, vice president of operations for the Northeast Tennessee Media Group. “We’ll start trying to figure out how many we’ve got, how many inserts we’re going to have and how many pages each insert will be. Roughly the first week of November, we start taking a page count of each insert piece itself and see how many that we’re going to have total. We break that down into two packages that we’re going to actually go to the homes with.”

Archer said the weight of this year’s edition varies with the different zoning possibilities and the number of inserts that are included in each paper due to customer preferences, but said the Thanksgiving edition is heavier than past years.

Around 38 employees help pre-package the papers, but Archer said the technological advantages of having two paper inserters has been helpful.

“There’s a lot to keep up with. Due to the machinery that we have now, it’s more accurate and a little bit more time-effective than it used to be,” he said. “It’s better than it used to be. There’s a lot of work that goes into putting out a Thanksgiving edition just because of the insert load, which we love to have because it’s advertising for us and that’s what we do. It’s a hectic time of year. We’ve got good crews that understand and know how to take care of the inserts.”

Press Advertising Sales Manager Bill Cummings said the Thanksgiving paper is the biggest revenue day for the Press, except for perhaps the annual Progress edition put out each spring.

Cummings said advertising for the Thanksgiving paper is a mix of regular and once-a-year advertisers.

“We have the regulars who will sometimes run multiple inserts in the paper, such as large department stores and discount stores that have so many offerings. They may have two or three inserts in the same Thanksgiving Day paper,” he said. “We have people who advertise with us sparingly, but they’re always in the Thanksgiving Day paper. It’ll be the one day a year that they do run.”

The role of a newspaper carrier also changes a bit when it comes to putting out the Thanksgiving paper.

Hensley said when it comes to distribution, carriers still adhere to a 6 a.m. deadline to get the paper to customers. He said many times carriers are coached on making sure they have a big enough vehicle to support the increased paper load, as well as coming in early to get started early.

“Our press deadline actually is moved forward 2½ hours to help us accommodate the extra production, and part of that is to help the carriers with the extra time it takes them to do their routes. It’s a big day. It’s a strenuous day. It’s a day when people work very hard to meet the deadlines that we have. They always call it a minor miracle every day that we get a paper out on time. (The Thanksgiving paper), I would consider it a major miracle,” he said.

It’s also not just subscribers they have to take care of on Thanksgiving morning, but also the single-copy sales accounts.

“For folks who don’t subscribe, we make sure that we have enough product on the street,” Hensley said. “Typically, our Thanksgiving single-copy sales, which are those sales that are sold at dealer locations or vending machines, it’s our biggest single copy sales day of the year. It’s a big deal to really make sure that 290 vending machines and 96 dealers get the right amount of product for that day. We use a lot of analytics to come up with those numbers. We look at the year before. We look at previous patterns, just to make sure that we have enough product out in the field. At the same time, we’re keeping in mind that we don’t want to have too much product in any one location.”

While some stores are opening Thanksgiving Day, Hensley said the number of inserts between the Wednesday before and Thanksgiving this year haven’t necessarily split the days, but said the trend could eventually catch on.

“It could be that in a few years we’ll see that Wednesday is as big as Thanksgiving, in terms of inserts, because I think you’re going to see the trend continue,” he said. “It could be that we might be seeing the beginning of the Thanksgiving paper dwindling in size and it being shared with the Wednesday before.

“It’s the most important paper of the year. It’s probably our most liked paper of the year that we put out. When you’re seeing continuing increases in the numbers, the pages, the anticipation by the people ... I think newspapers are still strong and I think Thanksgiving Day proves it,” Hensley said.

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