DesignThink: Market Traction

Children with lemonade stand


Making the Sale

The Communication Studio created the Electronic Sales Assistant (ESA) for the Newspaper Association of America in 1990.


ESA gave local newspapers a complete suite of Powerpoint-like, sales presentation tools, as well as fresh newspaper sales information, and an easy-to-use connection to the NAA’s online electronic bulletin board-based membership marketing support service .

Fairly cutting edge for the late 80’s

the Challenge: an Industry in Flux

Newspapers had been getting battered for a couple of decades by the electronic media:  Advertising competition from radio was the first volley, then the colorful “live” images of TV.  The arrival of digital interactive in the 80’s was yet another blow. Newspaper markets themselves had changed radically:  There were fewer players – most markets had only one daily newspaper – and smaller markets didn’t have much in the way of local marketing resources.

The Newspaper Association of America (branded as the Newspaper Advertising Bureau when I joined the team in late 1988) was hard-pressed to support the local needs of individual smaller markets.

A more detailed description and analysis of our underlying assumptions can be viewed in Appendix:  the Newspaper Market Situation, at the end of this article.

We needed to design a sales presentation maker with seamless, automated layout and graphing tools, which could be dynamically updated with online data, customized by hand, and printed out from a microcomputer.  — my thumbnail take on it

the Solution: a Polished Service

I worked hand-in-hand with the marketing department of the Newspaper Association of America  to develop an integrated package of a presentation creation tool, templates, an online browser and customized dynamic content. All you needed was a low-end Macintosh, a modem and a telephone line.

Goals of the Electronic Sales Assistant :


The Sales Presentation Maker

ESA allowed small-market newspaper business development folks to quickly and easily create customized, localized marketing presentations that have the power of national marketing data “at the push of a button”


You can construct customized sales presentations by selecting pages of sales arguments from our “camera ready” library of pre-formatted, proven NAA marketing material. You can also customize page design, edit text content create charts and merge in graphic clip art.


This is your constantly-growing library of sales presentations; both those you’ve created and the 10 popular, field-tested, targeted sales Ready-to-Go presentations that come with the ESA software. Your sales staff can select a presentation from the Ready-To-Go library, customize it with your own local data and print it at the push of a button

The Information Center

Here’s where you find a directory of the marketing resources available through the NAA: Retail Marketing Bulletins and Classified Bulletins , an exhaustive database of Retail Profiles , a catalog of Research Resources (workshops, brochures, tapes, etc.) that you can order electronically, and a current Calendar of NAA marketing activities.

NAA Directory

The section tells you how to best take advantage of your membership in the Newspaper Association of America. This is a complete directory of “who’s who” at the NAA: names, titles, phone numbers and departmental responsibilities.

Electronic Mail

The “e-mail” feature allows ESA subscribers to communicate with one another, as well as with the NAA directly. We keep you posted on the newest developments in newspaper marketing. Eventually, the e-mail system will allow ESA subscribers to share and exchange actual sales presentations electronically.

ESA Tools

AutoPresenter (an electronic slideshow), lnfoSpex (custom client information profile) and Management Reporter (library of presentations) let you customize your ESA experience for efficiency and effectiveness.

Here’s a more nerdy navigation and technical map of the ESA solution:

The Task List

ESA automatically updates the subscriber with current NAA membership information, industry bulletins and even software upgrades to the program itself. Features include:


ESA was “self aware” – not only in its approach to the merging of presentation and data – but also in its own behavior.

The Usage Reporter also maintained an activity Audit Trail which could be uploaded to the NAA.  Early spying … I mean ‘market data’.


Any good design thinking solution owes its success to business and marketing insight, which usually comes from a knowledgeable and wise Subject Matter Expert who knows and cares about “the user”.

Jim Conaghan, Dir. Marketing Products Development

… was my guide and and – I think I can say – “marketing partner”  throughout the creation of ESA (1989 – 1992).

You can’t do that, Jim!  They’re sentient beings.

Jim provided both insight and reality grounding, working in collaboration with …

Peter Winter, SVP Market Development

… who led our Digital Media Strategy consulting group at the NAA during the ESA Era .

Peter was a visionary of some standing in the interactive community ‘before we called it the Web“.

It’s always satisfying to work with people who already get it.


The information architecture structure, metadata tagging and presentation control techniques underlying The Electronic Sales Assistant were based on the TextUp and Otto software productivity tools that The Communication Studio had developed for electronic publishing earlier in the decade. ESA’s Presentation Maker was one of first real souped-up implementations of StyleSwitcher .

the “Design Thinking” TakeAway

Design Thinking = Problem Solving

The Electronic Sales Assistant was a viable solution (for a very difficult marketplace situation).  It was probably still a little bit ahead of its time.

These were a few of the new ideas, forms, and metaphors that were among the barriers to easy acceptance.

Even if you solve a Problem today …. acceptance still takes Time.

This is part of a series of articles I’m doing on the general topic of creative solutions and problem solving … often called “Design Thinking”.

The articles are based on deeds-done and lessons-learned earlier on in new media history.  I admit that the stories are old, but I believe that the truths are eternal.

(me, at about that moment in time…)


Appendix:  the Newspaper Market Situation

This is extracted from an article I wrote in 1990 : The Electronic Sales Assistant – Hypertext in the Traditional Publishing Environment.  It captures much of the ESA Challenge.

“Daily newspapers are steadily losing market share – and they are losing it to competitors who take advantage of computerization and electronic media.

Total ad revenues for local and national dailies in the US this past year totaled $31,197,000,000 – a 3.8% increase from 1988-89 – as compared to an overall 5.0% increase for all US advertising.  The traditional newspaper business is undergoing stiff competition for advertising dollars – especially from electronic media such as broadcast and cable television.

Typically, the in-house marketing and creative services at small and medium-sized newspapers are invested in generating general promotional material and in developing presentations for major clients.  As a result, less than 10% of the sales pitches made by the sales staff at these smaller papers are reinforced by a customized sales presentation.

In addition, the average salesperson spends more than half of their time in non-selling activities (such as call reporting and administrative chores).

Computerization is perceived as being a likely a strategy for making the sales force more efficient, and there is ample proof.for the assumption.  But getting sales personnel up to speed requires a significant investment in resources;  estimates for automating a sales force range from $5,000-15,000 per person and can take from 6 months to 2 years to achieve break-even.

For a variety of reasons, newspapers have lagged far behind many other businesses – and particularly their competitors – in integrating computers and electronic media into their sales operations.

And so, in 1988 the Newspaper Association of America began work on a practical solution to this situation.  Initially, we surveyed the Ad Departments of 1545 daily newspapers determine – among other things – where the computers were.  We found that approximately 65% of daily newspapers had PC’s in their Ad Department.  Of those with PC’s, about half also had modems.  Fully 87% of small-to-medium sized papers with PC’s in the Ad Department used Macintosh computers while only 30% had IBM-compatible machines.

Based on this information, the Marketing Technology Group of the NAA proceeded to develop a sales presentation support-oriented online bulletin board-based software product which would operate in the Macintosh environment.”

Technique: Gaming the System … out of necessity

I used Fontographer (a font-design tool) at the Newspaper Association of America in 1990 to “trick” our client newspapers’ Macs into customizing their sales presentations.

The Electronic Sales Assistant (ESA, based on a Hypercard/Supercard platform), allowed the Marketing department at member newspapers to use our online-delivered market data to craft customized sales presentations.

This was early days, so a design challenge was to integrate the local newspaper’s masthead logo into our PresentationMaker tool. I scanned and then recreated each member’s logo (not as a font, but rather as a piece of complex clipart), which was then loaded into a font titled ‘yourLogo”.

Each member newspaper received a generic copy of our ESA PresentationMaker software plus their own custom yourLogo font. This allowed each newspaper to construct printer-ready sales presentations fueled by fresh market data and branded with their own newspaper’s logo (yourLogo).

It was a kluge. I “gamed” the system in order to accomplish what I needed to accomplish … but it worked.

© The Communication Studio LLC