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Don’t Screw Up Prioritizing Your Customers Like Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle Did To Me Yesterday

I was preparing my Dino kale salad with hard-boiled egg yesterday morning, and did a quick scan of the cover story in the San Francisco Chronicle (owned by the mighty Hearst Corp.).

The headline read:

“Bakery boss”

The Wrong Way: The San Francisco Chronicle prioritized their advertiser J.C. Penney over their reader when they placed a sticker ad that covered up the front-page headline

I didn’t get it: why would the Chronicle run a headline that simply said “Bakery boss”?

It had a picture below it of two people hugging…I was still confused.

Did a local baker get promoted to “boss” and that somehow was newsorthy?

I’m a former journalist and the first rule of headlines is that it should be compelling enough to make the reader want to read on.

Then I noticed that there was a sticker on the paper and maybe that was hiding something.

After I had to annoyingly slide my short finger-nails under the sticker to get it to come off, I saw that there was a final word of the headline:


The full headline (“Baker boss guilty”) definitely had more of a ring to it and now made some sense (a guy running a bakery was convicted of murder).

The Right Way: When I was able to stick my fingernail under the sticker ad and remove it, I saw the full headline (this is what I should have seen in the first place!)

I know what you’re thinking: the sticker in the image above might look like it was easy to peel off…but trust me: it wasn’t.

It was super-sticky and it took me a little time to get my nail underneath it…and I ended up having sticky fingers.

Bad user experience!

Additionally, the sticker covering up part of the headline was an ad for JC Penney — a store I haven’t shopped at since I was a kid…totally irrelevant advertising to me.

But it was important enough to the advertising team at the SF Chronicle to allow someone to place it directly on the single biggest story of the day.

I think that the SF Chronicle is “guilty” itself of poorly ranking their customer sets.

You see, they have 2 customer sets and in this case they are:

  • Me (the reader who pays $1 per copy (cheaper with delivery))
  • JC Penney (the advertiser that gets to put the sticker on the front page)

Unfortunately, they seemed to rank me below the advertiser.

Bad move. Without my eyeballs, the Chronicle will not have a JC Penney or any other advertiser wanting to pay you for any ads.

My mid-kale-salad enigma got me thinking about how other companies rank their different customer sets.

How Google & Live Nation Prioritize Their Customer Sets

A friend of mine who was a product manager at Google told me that they rank their customers in the following order:

  1. Users (those of us who search for stuff on Google)
  2. Advertisers (those who buy the little ads on the right-hand column of Google)
  3. Publishers (other Web sites who run Google’s ads on their own sites)

You might appreciate how Google’s prioritiztion of customers benefits you when you visit Google’s Web site:

  • There is minimal clutter on their home page (you get to search real easily without being distracted)
  • The results come back super-fast (Google has always prided itself on getting the user their results quickly)
  • Even the advertising they show on their results is relevant (unlike the J.C. Penney ad in the Chronicle!)

Google understands that they have to rank the user #1 or else the rest of their business stars to crumble.

But I’m not saying that the user always need to come first.

For example, a friend at Live Nation (the concert company) told me that they have this interesting ranking system:

  1. Artist (bands, comedians, etc.)
  2. Consumer (those of us buying tickets to these shows)
  3. Venues (the places that show the events)

When Live Nation gets an artist a show at the Shoreline Ampitheatre, they make sure that the artist does not see and advertisement from their spot on stage

Live Nation recognizes that without awesome artists, none of the rest of their business matters (consumers won’t buy tickets and the venues are useless).

In fact, Live Nation goes so far as to ensure that the artist doesn’t have to see any sponsorship signs/advertisements from their vantage point on stage (at venues like the Shoreline above).


This is especially important for businesses that are marketplaces or involve media, as there are then always at least two sets of customers (buyers and sellers or readers and advertisers, etc.)

If you have multiple customer sets in your business, make sure you rank their priority properly.

And in my experience, one of them needs to take priority over the other for your business to truly thrive