By: Jennifer Saba
In a medium-sized room, deep in the heart of the InterContinental Kansas City hotel, Stephanie Stanton delivered some sobering news. The vice president of media operations at Vertis was part of an advertising-related panel during the Suburban Newspapers of America’s Fall conference. “Clients have moved away from ROP because of the cost,” she said of display ads running in print editions. She revealed she had a hard time justifying ROP to her clients, and instead requested packages sold on audience.
The eye-popping decline in advertising revenue over the past several quarters supports Stanton’s claims. The punishing economy is part of the problem, but many advertisers are spooked by climbing ROP rates.
When ROP flags, it’s time to draw up Plan B. Across the country, newspapers such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Los Angeles Times are trying to convince advertisers that newspapers are more than just ink on paper, setting up Web sites to offer alternative services like database marketing.
Newspapers “are marketing the products they offer to help [advertisers] take advantage of solutions they may or may not be aware of,” says Mort Goldstrom, vice president of advertising for the Newspaper Association of America. “At the base of all of this is that newspapers are about far more than putting a square ad on a piece of paper.”
USA Today is the latest to launch an offshoot Web site with the launch of the Buzz Bureau, to make advertisers aware of a whole slew of offerings ? services including content licensing, research and national distribution. “Basically, advertisers are looking for something new and different, not just traditional display advertising,” says Susan Lavington, USA Today’s senior vice president of marketing.
Lavington explains that USA Today had offered many of the Buzz Bureau services, but as part of a “value-add” in a larger buy. For example, if a large airline bought a full-page ad, the newspaper might throw in some research as an extra bonus. She found, however, that a lot of advertisers were interested in the “value-add” portion, too. “We decided, quite frankly, that there is money selling them as stand-alones. So we put them together and marketed them,” Lavington says.
It offers, for example, the Content Services “desk” where advertisers have access to USA Today material. That could mean anything from licensing content for a book or using published articles in advertising. The Buzz Bureau also draws upon the paper’s database of registered users. If an advertiser is interested in pulling together a quick focus group, the newspaper can tap, say, C-level executives and invite them to participate in a panel on travel.
Or, if there is an interesting conversation occurring in comments and an advertiser would like to know more, USA Today can approach specific commenters and ask them if they would be willing to participate in group research.
The national daily can also target specific hotels if an advertiser is interested in distributing free standing inserts with special offers.
Lavington says that Buzz Bureau offerings represent around 1% of its advertising revenue, but that it’s quickly growing. Of the advertisers who have so far taken advantage of the Bureau, 60% are traditional USA Today clients, while 40% make up new business. Lavington notes the paper probably would not have gotten some of the traditional account business if they hadn’t unbundled the offerings. Another pleasant surprise: USA Today has had some really big buys.
Marketing fresh ways advertisers can reach their customers through news-papers is a good strategy, says Gordon Borrell, of Borrell Associates: “I’m glad they are doing it. I think that most newspaper salespeople have been order-takers for too long, and need more arrows in their quiver than just a print ad.”
But he also says that newspapers have to be aggressive, because the competition is fierce: They need “to look at the Internet as a launch pad to attack other media rather than as a shield.”
It kind of dovetails with one gripe that the NAA’s Goldstrom has pertaining to the low visibility of these online offerings: “I fault all of these guys for putting up these good sites — and not getting you there.”