The power of just asking

Through a couple of decades of publishing a few questions seemed to always come up.

How do I get more ads in the paper or on the website? How do I find out what stories really connect with readers? How do I know if we’re actually helping the businesses that use our publication to reach consumers?

They will look to oddly constructed and strangely worded surveys. They’ll pursue focus groups and look to the comments, which feature maybe 20 of their 50,000 readers — if they have an active comments section.

But they never just ask.


I was a fresh newspaper publisher running a weekly newspaper. I decided I wanted to sell a couple of front page ads — small ads at the bottom of the page.

It took about two weeks to fill all the positions we had available and when the president of the company came for a site visit, he asked how I got those advertisers on board.

I was a little perplexed by the question, and answered truthfully enough.

“I just asked,” I said.

I remember his response. He just smiled and said, “Funny how often people say yes if you just ask.”

We get away from just asking people what they think and what they want. The digital age empowers us to reach and engage with more and more people, but it isn’t empowering us to have more productive conversations, no matter what the social media ninjas/jedis/gurus tell you.

As a newspaper publisher I took time each week to just talk to readers. Every Wednesday, I’d walk the town and hand out free copies of the newspaper. It was amazing what kinds of conversations — and what kinds of things I’d learn from the simple act of offering a free paper.

I’d call subscribers who were cancelling. I’d ask that simple question — why? Their answers, while occasionally rude, were usually insightful.

We are in great danger of losing our ability to converse.


Step away from the keyboard, close Facebook, and log out of Twitter.

Curious what people think about your blog? Call a couple of them and just ask.

Are you curious why someone doesn’t advertise or sponsor your blog? Call them and ask.

An amazing thing happens when you ask a person a question. A conversation ensues and usually you wind up learning something.

Give it a try sometime.

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