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The Leonardo da Vinci method of selling advertising

Virginia Olson of Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Virginia Olson
Lincoln High School
Sioux Falls, S.D.

Title: The Leonardo da Vinci method of selling advertising

Leonardo da Vinci was probably the most creative individual who ever lived. He represented the quintessence of human potential. His spirit transcended above all else as he promoted a vivid message through his art and his writing and his way of life. Michael J. Gelb wrote in his book “How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci” that this famous artist’s success was achieved because he illuminated basic philosophies. Da Vinci’s mantra: wake up; never stop learning; think for yourself; learn from your mistakes; refine your senses; embrace the unknown; balance your brain; learn to preserve your health; and open yourself to the connectedness of all things.

Da Vinci worked to his full potential. His thinking, planning, and problem?solving worked in unison using both the creative side and logical side of his brain. He basically thought outside the box.

But how can a school newspaper and Leonardo da Vinci ever be connected? Competition for the advertising dollar is stiff. With a commodity such as a school newspaper, genius must, therefore, be applied. Every element of selling requires a special sort of thinking. Thus it is through Leonardo da Vinci and his way of thinking I teach students how to sell for a school paper. It is a mindset, that once mastered, provides artistry to the craft of selling.


The following elements all combine to successfully and creatively build advertising for the school paper. Each requires thinking outside the box.

The right individuals

A good, solid sates team is where an adviser begins. Not everyone can sell. It is, therefore, crucial that the adviser test out various individuals. These individuals must be comfortable meeting the public. They must be willing to approach businesses. They must represent the school and the newspaper well in their manner and behavior. They must be willing to handle a lot of “no’s”. They mast be aggressive not timid; articulate not shy.

Students know right away whether they will like selling or not. A true salesperson rises to the top right away.


Planning is the first thing all advertising representatives need to do. They must plan the year, the month, the week and the day. The necessary dollar amount needed to produce the paper and hopefully, make a profit must also be established The yearlong plan helps to identify target dates and events that advertising can be built around. An issue plan includes the advertising deadlines, target businesses, and which individuals are going after certain businesses. It includes a timetable necessary to sell, layout, create, and bill for advertising. A daily plan helps for personal organization and reference. It is necessary to prepare a contact sheet and have a contact person to keep track of who has been contacted, when, and what the business’s response is. It must be completely filled out and then reviewed by the entire team. At the end of the day, all activity must be logged. This helps for further planning.

Not only must advertising representatives plan their time out carefully, they must plan who they will contact. Here a good brainstorming session helps. Businesses who want to reach teens should be listed. Services that teens use should be listed. Once the list is made, the advertising representatives must decide what the best time would be for the businesses to advertise.

All planning is ongoing. Flexibility is important because changes may need to be made. Advertisers sometimes don’t get copy to the newspaper on time or decide to pull their ad. Empty spots can result so the advertising representatives need to have backup material ready to go

The students must plan the way each business wall be marketed. You can’t just say: “Do you want to buy an ad?” The advertising representative must “strategize” and give the business a reason to place its ad in a school paper. Therefore, the advertising representative must be specific and creative about an idea.


Advertising representatives must be taught right from the beginning a follow-through procedure. A sold ad is not a sold ad until the school paper has ad copy. Follow-through involves the actions a advertising representative must take immediately after the “yes.” This requires the following: getting the name of a contact person, when the person can be contacted, a phone number; a number of where the contact can be reached; specifics about the school newspaper’s deadlines, when the ad needs to be picked up; if the ad needs to be created; when the ad can be proofed; if the advertiser doesn’t want to advertise in the upcoming issue, when should the business be contacted again. All this information must be gathered at the time of the contact. It’s like getting a promise in writing. It also lets the businesses know the student is serious about his or her job. Finally, a contact sheet should be created to keep track of this information and should be filed for future reference. A special file should be made for these advertisers that need to be recontacted at a later date for a future issue.


A rate sheet (rate card)
The rate sheet (rate card) for the Statesman newspaper of Lincoln High School, Sioux Falls, S.D.

The Rate Sheet (Rate Card)

The graphically designed rate sheet (also known as a rate card) is the most significant piece of information a newspaper staff can create. The rate sheet should not only provide ad prices, size dates of publication, a phone number, a fax number, and Web site address, it should also offer a picture of how the ad looks on the page.

The rates can be determined by figuring the cost per page. Once this is determined, the staff needs to decide how much profit the paper should make and balance it with a reasonable rate.

The Advertising Kit

The advertising representatives should prepare advertising kits for the school paper. The kit includes a rate sheet, a fact sheet about the school publication, a business card, and a sample of a past issue of the newspaper. This kit can be as simple as a large manila envelope or as formal as a specially created folder with the information included.

Marketing and promotion

The advertising representatives need to promote the paper. This can be done by advertising for subscriptions in the school newsletter and throughout the year in the paper itself. Parents, businesses and alums help to build the paper’s reading public. This reading public also helps sell a paper. Advertising also needs to be promoted on the Web site and in the school newspaper. Other good times for promotion include: school open house, parent?teacher conferences, and the opening days of school. The advertising representatives need to get the school paper out there. The secret is looking for opportunity and seizing it!

Types of ads

Look for opportunities to do special types of advertising. There are many of them out there. A creative ad staff can come up with a plan over the summer and then institute it during the year. Here are some types of advertising that can be put to use.

    • The back page

The back page is the bread and butter of the issue. Sell the back of every issue immediately and get a written contract from these businesses. Some suggestions for the back page: soft drinks; armed forces; or pizza.

    • Cluster ads/theme ads

Cluster ads carry a theme and are promoted around that theme. The ads usually run in the center of the paper and can carry a special rate. Businesses should be offered three different sizes. These pages sell extremely well, but must be sold several months in advance. Again, planning, targeting arid marketing are the key. Themes include: great ideas for Christmas; prom; Mother’s day; Graduation; etc.

    • Classified ads

Businesses need employees. The school newspaper can be a logical source for this form of advertising.

    • Special edition ads/event ads:

Promote the paper with what it is featuring. One great idea would be the Great American Smokeout and the American Cancer Society or prom and the use of alcohol. Have the staff write a story about the senior photos then build advertising around photography businesses. Special 4?page editions inside the paper can meant even bigger advertising sales for that issue. It is like a newspaper in itself. A business may want to sponsor the entire special edition for a given price. Also it can mean the sale of a second back page.

    • Web ads

If the newspaper has a Web site use it to advertise. Find a business that wants to advertise every time someone hits the site. These banner ads can run all year.


Ad require careful proofing NO business likes to see mistakes in their ads. Lots of eyes should look at the ad for correct dates and spelling. These ads must be checked before they are laid out and at the printer when there is a proof. If there is an error, acknowledge it and offer the business another free ad. It is important to be proactive and polite.

Web site

If the student newspaper has a Web site and a Web master, use it. Have the rate sheet placed online. Also have ads e?mailed to the school paper if that is more convenient for the advertiser.


The student advertisers need to prepare the bills each issue. Two copies of each bill should be printed. The bill should be on the newspaper letterhead. It should include the size of the ad that was purchased, the date of the issue, the name of the business, and where the bill is to be sent. A short personal note which includes a “thank you” and a signature of the student advertising representative is a nice touch. The bill is mailed with a tearsheet ( or better yet, the entire publication) the day the paper comes out, the other copy of the bill is filed. The advertising representatives should prepare a spreadsheet file to keep track of what money comes in. Rebill in 30 days if payment is not received.

Advertising tools

  • lots of rate sheets
  • business cards
  • contact sheet
  • advertising kit
  • phone message pad
  • fax
  • e-mail address
  • business card holder
  • city directory
  • newspaper stamp
  • sample newspapers
  • 9 x 11 envelopes
  • file for logos
  • letterhead printed from computer as needed
  • labels
  • Web site
  • creativity
  • thinking outside the box

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