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Archive for the ‘Legal Advertising’ Category

Free At Last: Inside the Legals Victory in Ohio

In Competition, Legal Advertising, Uncategorized on August 3, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Years of persistence — what some have called blind optimism and others, insanity — paid off when Ohio Governor John Kasich signed the biennial Budget into law on June 30, 2011. Contained in the 3,264 page document were 420 pages of provisions that bring the legal advertising process into the 21st Century. It is a model of comprehensive compromise in both policy and politics, so much so that the key stakeholders locked in perennial antagonism all declared victory at the end of the day.

Local Government cheered the very real cost savings on otherwise unfunded mandates. The pay-to-read press heralded the preservation of legal advertising in print, which was not entirely a given this time around — and their enthusiasm spilled into an historical whitewash of relentless opposition great and small.

And for the free community paper industry: We’re finally legal in Ohio.

All of which is best for the people — as better informed citizens and as taxpayers footing the bill. But this legislated outcome didn’t happen by itself. It didn’t happen overnight or with a Hail Mary as time ran out. Nor because any major stakeholder suddenly abandoned self-interst for altruism. Columbus Messenger publisher, Phil Daubel, began his personal crusade over twenty years ago with some very near misses along the way. Guess which influential lobby always managed to pull the plug?

From our rise as an industry generations ago, free community papers have fought for the right to publish legal advertising. For at least the last decade and a half, measures have been introduced across state legislatures that would take that public notice out of print and place it all online. During this latter span of time, both alternatives to subscription newspapers made advances at the margins of select types of official notice. But neither vision became the model of wholesale reform of any state’s legal advertising regime since our industry’s victory in Minnesota last century.

What I call the Buckeye Compromise embraces both the realities of the digital age — and the time-tested power of papers without paywalls. Progress was methodically paved over the last half-decade through the legal establishment of a Task Force charged with making change, constructively engaging that commission, having hands in the direct process turning an eight page report into nearly five hundred pages of legislative sausage, and advocating the ultimate provisions as bills and amendments. That is the essence of the long, slow process where all parties were held to their bottom-line gives and takes. Which is not to say that even the agreed-to framework wasn’t subject to backpedalling and covert obstruction.

The publicly endorsed nuts and bolts — legalizing free community papers with audited circulations, capping rates at lowest earned commercial, allowing for internet posting in lieu of second paper for same notice and for summarized descriptions on second consecutive print publication — cemented the fallback position, a mousetrap of sorts. Our peers with the monopoly, and the license to print money, still hoped to stall any movement. While our friends — and soon to be advertisers — would have much preferred doing away with print altogether. That was basically Governor Kasich’s original proposal, and that worst-case scenario feeling quite real drove home, finally, the wisdom of expanding print to save it.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of prominent free community paper veterans that have told me these last few years that our Legals ambitions were doomed to the internet. But I, along with enough equally stubborn folks, continued to believe that we could finally achieve reform because of the internet. Ohio can and should become the first state domino in this still-new century. To do so we must leverage the larger fear of the incumbent monopoly — total migration to the internet — and continue working with Local Government to quantify the very real savings we will bring. This won’t change the underlying competing ambitions — to stall just one more legislative session and otherwise to push web-only or bust — but having our fallback option on the table at the beginning increases the odds should process approach endgame. As we now see in Ohio, not only can this be done but all sides can even feel like they won when the dust finally settles.


The New Wave of Political Advertising

In Legal Advertising, Political Advertising, Uncategorized on August 12, 2010 at 11:39 am

From the upcoming edition of the Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association bulletin, The Messenger:

My column is usually dedicated to taking one of the many government related battles we’re involved in, dissecting it under a microscope and then taxing your patience with all the nitty gritty. But this time around, I’ll give a twitter-sized summary on the happenings in government relations and move on to opportunities on the brand new political advertising landscape.

This year has been the most challenging ever. From Annapolis to Harrisburg, to Columbus and Washington, D.C., we’ve been pushing the free community paper policy agenda. We defeated a new tax on advertising and are fighting same at overreaching interpretations of old law on printing. We passed legals through the House and are pushing them in the Court. And we continue to put our recipes for fair competition in the Federal Sausage being ground in multiple proceedings seeking to “Save News,” to stop new traffic tampering toll booths on an Open Internet, as well as stop Cross-Media Monopolies in our hometown markets.

Ok, that was a couple tweets worth but still not the customary flogging. Now onto what changed to make this a new day in political advertising, and setting arguments over good or bad for Democracy aside, how this could be great for your bottom line heading into fall. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a monumental Ruling on political advertising in Citizens United vs. FEC. In a nutshell, SCOTUS essentially ruled that corporations are citizens, money is speech, and therefore limiting their spending on advertising to influence elections and issues is a violation of their Rights under the First Amendment.

Citizens United is a fundamental game changer. Corporations (including incorporated trade and consumer associations) and Unions can now use general treasury funds to pay for advertisements expressly advocating the election or defeat of clearly identified candidates for federal office anywhere at anytime (like: Vote for Bob Smith for US REP), as well as referring to clearly-identified elected officials for legislative purposes (for example: Call Senator Jones and ask him to vote against the Senate’s Cap and Trade bill). The ruling did not tackle the issue of campaign financing, so the playing field with all the bright new lights is advertising with we the media. And while Congress has moved to Legislate new restrictions, it’s unlikely anything more than a couple sandbags in the flood will pass the Senate.

While federal Candidates, themselves, tend to stick to cookie-cutter Radio and TV spots and politically entrenched direct mail shops, the folks that just got the green light to spend large are more likely to operate like the businesses they are. Display advertising could be very attractive, especially where it maps well over districts, and these folks should actually listen to the compelling case for inserts over direct mail pieces. Based on all manner of sources, unprecedented amounts of money is being raised, to be spent by these Business Groups, their counterparts in Unions, and established as well as continuously sprouting Front Groups from Left and Right — to educate Voters this November on the Candidates’ positions on their pet policy issues.

Our readers are in traditional Battleground States where several federal races, both state-wide Senate and district-level House seats, are paramount to special interest agendas. Many of these are anticipated to be very competitive, critical to the margins in the Congressional Balance of Power, translating correspondingly into probable life or death of these organizations high-stakes issues. Some political advertisers might just end up finding you on their own — there are examples from primaries across the country where prominent local businesses have taken out full pages backing Congressional candidates.

But there is actual research, planning and coordination we can all start doing now, assuming there’s interest. For my part, I already monitor a range of national players now for policy stances that could impact our industry, and will be watching for the races these groups plan to target with an eye towards Mid-Atlantic opportunities. At your own papers, you might check out this fantastic resource if you’re interested in proactively selling advertising for US House races: Center for Responsive Politics’ — click top left button, “Politicians & Elections” and scroll down to “Congressional Elections.” From there, it’s a snap to find every contest by district and each has top corporate and union donors revealed by clicking the “Contributors” tab. After your jaw drops, the list you’re looking at are your prime targets, those with serious coin in the game now — and this is their first chance to openly exercise their First Amendment Rights with political advertising in your publication.

As always, please feel free to contact me anytime about this or any other issues or concerns.

Our Industry Needs United Voice on Key Policies…

In Cap & Trade, Do-Not-Deliver, Do-Not-Mail, Environmental Impact, FCC, FTC & DOJ, Healthcare Reform, Legal Advertising, Network Neutrality, Rules&Regs on October 12, 2009 at 11:35 pm

…being written in real-time!

As many of you already know, I spent years working inside our industry and now advocate for the specific interests of our industry. Officially, I only consult for MACPA, but in practice I always help any publisher, anywhere, anytime. Those efforts benefit dual members and often publishers well outside the Mid-Atlantic. Today, we and our advertisers — small business, generally — are under assault by both government and much larger competitors. Since the election, a slew of new front groups launched claiming to speak for broad constituencies — from the “public” generally to “small business” specifically. Meanwhile, recent surveys show that 76% of small businesses feel nobody’s speaking for them — but the biggest businesses are spending more than ever to claim to speak for all business.

It would be extremely helpful for me to be able to point to a statement of common purpose when I’m tackling regional and national issues. Current conditions make it more important than ever that the entire industry unite around a few national policy priorities. I’m asking that you please consider adopting some formal positions — a resolution for your board to vote on that your association joins in formally endorsing any, hopefully all of the following:

• legislation affording the legal ability of audited free community papers to publish and bill for legal advertising and public notice;

• laws and policies that protect open and neutral digital networks, and otherwise prevent arbitrary discrimination against traffic and content;

• laws and rules that foster fair competition between media outlets in local media markets;

• voluntary efforts towards greater community recycling, full-circle recycling of newsprint, and incentives towards availability and use of higher recovered fiber newsprint;

• passage of a federal shield law for reporters;

• steadfast opposition to all threats to distribution, including all levels of laws, ordinances and predatory practices relating to: rack, carrier and mail.

• Bonus: Any statements on some key small biz provisions on health care reform would be great, too. All other suggestions welcome!

Government happens to you…

In Cap & Trade, Do-Not-Deliver, Environmental Impact, Fair Housing Rules, Healthcare Reform, Legal Advertising, Network Neutrality, Uncategorized on July 24, 2009 at 12:09 pm

…If you let it! Welcome to the Free Paper Policy Blog & Data Warehouse! The goal here is to create constructive dialogue and provide proven resources to deal with the vast array of threats and opportunities facing the free community paper industry. The wonky topics found here include HUD & Fair Housing Advertising, Do-Not-Deliver/Mail Case Studies, Dominion & DistribuTech Rack Monopolies, FCC, PLCB, Legal Advertising Reform, Workers Comp, Healthcare Reform, Unionization, Environmental Impact, Open Networks/Net Neutrality, Deep Packet Inspection…and comprehensive notes on all the neato stuff we’ve battled, won & learned from!