Tips for making public notices noticeable

(Editor's Note: Ed henninger will be featured at the 2017 Texas Press Midwinter Conference and Trade Show Jan. 19-21 with more on this topic, including examples from a Texas newspaper.)

FRANKLIN, Tennessee — The Public Notice Resource Center’s premier public notice conference packed the room on the first day of the National Newspaper Association’s annual convention.

The nonprofit Public Notice Resource Center provides information about the civic value of public notices in local newspapers.

The half-day symposium featured panels on best practices, legislative strategy and the importance of publishing public notices on the web, along with presentations on design and the state of public notice.

“Whether newspapers remain in print for another hundred years or become totally digital or somehow get wired directly into Apple watches, we can still be the providers of public notice,” said PNRC President Brad Thompson, CEO of Detroit Legal News Co., in his introduction. “But only if we do the job right.”

Thompson explained that the goal of the conference was to provide publishers with tools and tips to meet that challenge.

In the future, PNRC plans to conduct more presentations, conferences and webinars in conjunction with other newspaper groups.

Newspaper design guru Ed Henninger addressed publishers at the conference, challenging them to add some design spice to their public notices.

“If you make public notices difficult to read and treat them like an afterthought, nobody is going to look at them,” said Henninger, who will also speak on “Making Public Notices More Noticeable” at Texas Press Association’s Midwinter Conference in January.

The independent design consultant and owner of Henninger Consulting offered a number of suggestions to publishers wanting to improve the design of their public notice pages. (See sidebar.)

Henninger mentioned that his consulting firm has a grant program that helps to make redesigns affordable for newspapers with limited revenue.

The conference was sponsored by Tecnavia, Nevada Legal News and the Illinois Press Association.


Ed Henninger’s Tips for better public notices

• The keys: Visual elements, headlines, larger type. (It’s o.k. to run a notice in larger type than the minimum required by law. Your readers will thank you.)

• Label them as “public notices,” not “legal notices.”

• Promote them on the front page.

• Use a visual header with section-header-sized type denoting the public notice section (e.g., type as large as that labeling your sports section, accompanied by a photo of the courthouse, a line shot of the scales of justice, a gavel, etc.).

• Publish the contact information of public notice personnel.

• Use headlines to break up groups of public notices.

• Make lengthy notices more readable with columns and/or subheads.

• For auction notices, include photos of the items to be auctioned. (If the sheriff’s department has a notice about an auction of its old squad cars, run a photo of one of the cars.)

• Publish a map to identify locations of the events promoted in the public notice section.

• Publish an index of public notice ads on the front page and/or in the public notice section.

• Provide the web address for each notice published in your paper.

• Include a “why public notices are important” statement in the public notice section.

• Add a glossary of public notice terms on the public notice page.

• Place your public notices in the news section with the courts and legal news rather than in the back of the paper. And remember to PROMOTE PUBLIC NOTICES ON PAGE ONE!