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Jan. 13, 2014, 12:19 p.m.
LINK: www.businesswire.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   January 13, 2014

If you’re looking for against-the-grain experiments at newspapers, Aaron Kushner’s Orange County Register is probably the best place to find them these days. One of those experiments, which our Ken Doctor wrote about a year ago, attempts to tie being a Register subscriber to being a good member of your community. As Ken wrote:

ocreg-2012

The Register showered its 124,000 seven-day print subscribers with golden envelopes in November. In each envelope: a check for $100, made out to the Register. Subscribers were asked to pick their favorite local nonprofit or charity, endorse the check, and send it back to the paper. A “massive number” of subscribers responded, and 1,300 nonprofits are about to enjoy the fruits of the campaign. No, the nonprofits don’t get cash; they get advertising in the Register’s print or digital products.

It’s a massive stroke of goodwill, and p.r. It can be called a $12.4 million program — if all the 124,000 subscribers returned the $100 “checks” — though the $12.4 million is a price (of buying Register advertising), not a cost. So, for instance, the top three charities — The Salvation Army, The Wounded Warrior Project and the Orange County Rescue Mission — will collectively be able to spend $300,000 with the Register. That’s a considerable sum. It should both augment the profiles of the 1,300 charities that got some allocation and make the Register both more of a community citizen and a place to consider advertising down the road.

Whatever you think of Kushner’s other ideas — and some seem worth questioning — this one seems golden. You get proud subscribers and civic engagement at the cost of a commodity product that costs you either marginal newsprint prices or nothing at all.

It’s such a good idea that The Boston Globe has run with it:

Boston Globe Shutdown

The Boston Globe has a tremendous history of supporting the community through a variety of initiatives and partnerships. The GRANT program allows Boston Globe subscribers to direct which non-profits the Globe can further enable this year through what the Globe does best: reach engaged community members. Here’s how it works: home delivery and digital subscribers will be invited via a voucher sent in a silver envelope in the mail to direct promotional GRANT dollars toward the non-profit of their choice. Non-profits accumulate GRANT dollars, which are used toward the redemption of print advertisement space in the Globe.

[Owner John] Henry said, “While the GRANT program is the first of its kind in the region, we are emulating a similar successful program pioneered by the Orange County Register and its publisher Aaron Kushner.”

Not sure why Boston only gets silver envelopes while the OC gets gold — but metallic aesthetic quibbles aside, this is the sort of low-cost, high-benefit program a lot of other newspapers should be emulating to strengthen ties with its core readership.

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