Interview: Holly Sanders

Holly Sanders has covered advertising, marketing, and new media for the New York Post for two years, after three years with Bloomberg News. She spoke to PRWeek about the future of the ad industry and life on the business beat at New York's most in-your-face tabloid.

Holly Sanders has covered advertising, marketing, and new media for the New York Post for two years, after three years with Bloomberg News. She spoke to PRWeek about the future of the ad industry and life on the business beat at New York's most in-your-face tabloid.

PRWeek: How did you get into journalism originally?
Holly Sanders: Actually, journalism was kind of my first real job. [When] I started out, I think I was like 13 or 14-doing administrative tasks for my hometown newspaper. It was the only thing that would ever accept me, I guess.

PRWeek: What jobs did you have before you came to the Post?
Sanders: I went to journalism school undergrad at the University of Oregon, then did about a year at Medill School of Journalism for my graduate degree, and then, from there, I went straight to Bloomberg News and was there for about three and a half years, and then came to the Post. So I've been at the Post for a little over two years now.

PRWeek: What are the big trends you're watching in the marketing world right now?
Holly Sanders: Well, I think there's one trend that is hard to escape no matter where you look: the money is flowing in a different direction than it used to. That, pretty much, is the overarching theme to every-thing in my work.

PRWeek: Do you feel like the old-line ad agencies are adapting to that very well?
Sanders: I think that they are adapting with varying degrees of success. I think the biggest obstacle for them is the way the compensation structure is set up; it's in their best interest to preserve the business the way it is now, which is, you still put out 30-second spots.

They frankly just don't make as much money when they do other forms of advertising. I think that will change. I think maybe it will go more to straight fee structure, and that will allow them more flexibility. I think part of it lies with the companies too. Just because your ad agency isn't doing a 30 second spot for you doesn't mean that the advertising isn't as worthwhile, or worth fair compensation. Everybody's going to have to change. It's been a slow and painful process.

PRWeek: How do you like working for the Post, as opposed to a more traditional outlet like Bloomberg News?
Sanders: I have to say, I like the deadlines for a paper more than I like them for a wire service. Obviously, there's a huge difference in culture between Bloomberg and the Post.

But whether you love the Post or you hate it, for whatever reason you might have - because you like tabloids, you hate tabloids, maybe you don't like the political perspective in the Op-Ed pages - I do think, that in some ways, it is a really good reporter's paper.

PRWeek: Do all the reporters at the Post have an inherently punchy writing style, or is that the rewrite desk punching up the articles?
Sanders: There's more rewriting that goes on in the stories up front. So the general news section, the city, [and] the crime coverage: there's certainly a much heavier hand there by the rewrite men, so to speak.

On the business desk, we operate pretty autonomously of the rest of the general news. There's obviously coordination, but we don't share the same editors, for instance. And I would say there's probably less rewriting on the business side of things, and we tend to play it a lot straighter in the business section, to be perfectly honest. We like punchy writing, but we probably don't use as many puns as they do up front.

PRWeek: Whom do you consider your competitors? Is it less the New York Daily News, coming from the business section?
Sanders: I think in just the past year, [the Daily News has become] primarily personal finance. It will occasionally have a media story, but far less often than it used to. So in some ways, that sort of killed that matchup, I think.

We obviously have a focus on things that are of interest to New York. We're heavy on real estate, Wall Street, and media. We also like a healthy dose of ego in our stories. I guess in that sense, we consider ourselves to be competitive with The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or any major paper's business section.

People may disagree with that, but I would say that is what we aspire to be, just with the unique Post spin on things.

PRWeek: Have the hard times of the newspaper industry itself hit home in the Post newsroom?
Sanders: No. To be honest, and I don't think anybody here would disagree with me, the Post has always been very lean. It's always tried to do a lot with fewer resources than many newspapers of this size. So no, I haven't noticed... cutbacks, people still get raises.

It's been business as usual. I guess that's the advantage or disadvantage of being part of a global media company. Other parts of the company make money. We're not to that point where we're breaking [even].

I guess it's nice to be part of a major corporation, that has the time and the patience to build advertising and readership and wait for that to happen.

PRWeek: Any advice for PR pros in terms of likes and dislikes?
Sanders: I like to have a relationship with the people I deal with on a daily basis. I go to ad agencies where I have good relationships with the PR pros because I know they will help me get people on the phone, they'll help me get access.

I'm not a big fan of getting an e-mail pitch and then having somebody say, "Did you get my pitch?" in a phone call. I read my e-mails and I'll get back to you if I'm really interested in it. And I only say that because I cover advertising and marketing, so everybody tries to pitch a story saying, "Well, it's marketing" because they're trying to sell something. But that's not really what I cover.

So I think I deal with probably, compared to my other colleagues, a very high number of cold calls, and people saying, "Look, we have a new campaign," and I have tell them, "Look, we don't cover campaign stuff." We're a little more focused on business than that.

When I first started out on this beat a couple years ago, that wasn't a problem at all. I only say that's a problem because it takes up a lot of time, and as patient as I try to be, sometimes I lose it.

Name: Holly Sanders

Outlet: The New York Post

Title: Business reporter

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