Puzzling out new revenue

How to keep readers looking at the ads


Here's a revenue-generating idea that is simple, inexpensive and keeps readers looking at an ad for 30 minutes. People participating in SNPA's recent Publisher-to-Publisher (P2P) video conference call already know what it is.

Everyone else, pay attention.

Trevor Evans was advertising manager at The Express in Lock Haven, Penn., when he was told to come up with a way to make up for $5,000 in lost revenue, and do it quickly. The result was a 16-page special tabloid section of Word Search puzzles tied to ads. It made more than $5,000, and he sold it in two hours by making phone calls to legacy advertisers as he was driving.

Evans became publisher of The Leader-Herald in Gloversville, N.Y., in July, and that paper, circulation 5,600 daily and 8,600 Sundays, is rolling out its first Word Search section this week.

"Everybody loves Word Searches," said Evans. "It's just an easy sell."

This is how it works. Invest in a copy of Apple's Puzzle Maker program; the app can be had for about $25. Feed in 15 to 20 words relating to the advertiser. Evans uses Domino's Pizza as an example; the words being searched are mostly ingredients from pepperoni to pineapple. Puzzle Maker creates Word Searches and crossword puzzles.

Run the ad as a strip directly underneath the puzzle. Reserve two pages of the section for the puzzle solutions. Print. Count your money.

"We made the words about the businesses. And our sales pitch was that people are going to be looking at your ad for about 30 minutes, trying to figure out the Word Search," Evans said.

The advertiser can choose the words or the paper's ad staff can. Evans recommends relatively short words or phrases, and not too many of them.

"I would only do 15 to 20 words. If you go over 20 words the font gets too small to read. Fifteen is ideal."

The Leader-Herald's first section will be 24 pages, with the ad-puzzle combination going for $250 for color and $200 for black-and-white. It has sold $5,700 worth of ads.

The first section in Lock Haven, a six-day paper, won an award from the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association and got some trade magazine coverage. Other newspapers started calling and Evans sent out more than 50 packages about the idea.

In addition to for-profit advertisers, the concept has also proven popular with nonprofits. Organizations such as the YMCA and United Way believe the Word Searches raise awareness of their programs and missions as readers work through their search words, Evans said.

The relative lack of expense and ease of selling the puzzle ads make the idea especially feasible for smaller papers, he notes.

"It doesn't matter how big a paper you are. Anybody can do it."

Publishers: Register now to take part in the next P2P video conference call.  The April 19 call will be on tactical cost-cutting.  The price of admission: submit a successful cost-cutting idea by April 13. LEARN MORE

For more information about the Word Search revenue idea, contact Leader-Herald Publisher Trevor Evans at

Jane Nicholes

Jane Nicholes is a veteran journalist based in coastal Alabama and is a regular contributor to SNPA. Reach her at

Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.

revenue, Word Search
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