In this age of Facebook, Google, and digital everything, it’s easy to dismiss an old-school lead generator like print newspapers. But there’s a good chance your competition may be using print to their advantage—and little-known pay-per-lead programs make such advertising smarter than ever.

“With all the noise surrounding the struggles of print publications, it’s important to note that newspaper advertising can still be exceedingly effective,” noted a report from Macromark, a customer acquisition, retention, and monetization media company.

In fact, nearly 40% of Americans still read newspapers, which means well over 100,000 million people are reading print news daily, the company noted. “That is a number that can’t be ignored and should be considered a sound opportunity to reach what is typically an older and more affluent audience,” the Macromark report concluded.

In the Washington, D.C., market, home improvement companies seem to have taken that lesson to heart. A recent daily front section of the Washington Post featured 16 home improvement ads compared to just six non home improvement ads. That means nearly three fourths of the ads were for home improvement companies.

The trend doesn’t bear out when looking at other major newspapers nationwide. But given the time of year and the Post’s readership, the glut of home improvement ads isn’t surprising, said Josh Kiernan, marketing director for Closet America, a Remodeling Big50 honoree.

“That readership is most home improvement companies' target audience,” Kiernan said. “And lead generation in the summer is always the toughest because everyone is traveling.”

But even though Kiernan’s market is also the D.C. metro area, he isn’t doing his print advertising in the Post. That’s because he’s struck a deal with other local papers that’s hard to beat: Rather than pay for ads, he pays for leads through three major print channels. The Baltimore Sun, the Frederic News Post and Valpak. Those channels give him ads in about 30 different newspapers and a direct mailer that goes to 2 million homes monthly all on a pay-per-lead basis.

“I knew newspaper companies were getting desperate and I just thought I’d call to haggle,” he said. “I’d never be able to get this amount of exposure for the amount I’m paying if I wasn’t on the program I’m on.”

Here’s how the program works: Each ad contains a specific tracking number that both Kiernan and the publication track. Kiernan pays a set fee for each lead that he gets. Depending on the publication, the fee ranges from 10% to 13% of the actual sale. For the Baltimore Sun the fees range from $185 to $200. But here’s the key: Kiernan only pays for a lead if the call lasts longer than 60 seconds.

“A minute is an eternity on the phone to qualify a lead,” he says. “You just have to have your call center set up so they can qualify those leads quickly.”

Even with his careful set up, Kiernan said he pays around $5,000 to $6,000 per month on his print pay-per leads. But he said he might easily be spending $10,000 to $15,000 per ad on a traditional print sale. He estimates that around 14% percent of his leads come from his pay-per-lead program.

As newspapers struggle, Kiernan said contractors have more power than ever before—if they know how to use it. “It’s kind of like, ‘Let’s make a deal,’” he said. “These aren’t things they’re advertising.”

Contractors who want to make a similar deal need to first be sure that they have call tracking software set up through a CRM or similar backend software that can be shared with the publication, along with a robust call center that can quickly qualify leads. Next contractors should be ready to present the following data to a newspaper advertising sales person: close ratio, leads from that paper’s market and their average sale price. He said companies with a close ratio of 40% to 45% have the best chance of striking a deal.

“You have to go in with a plan and some of your numbers to show how you’re performing. They don’t want to put your ads out there if they’re not going to get the money back,” he said.

Even if a deal can be made, print advertising must be creative and fresh to be effective and contractors shouldn’t expect much help from papers in that arena. “It’s very involved. It’s not like Home Advisor where you just pay money as leads come in,” he said. “You’re basically driving the process. It’s a little extra work, but it’s well worth it.”