Former Digital First Media CEO John Paton used to talk about the need to start “stacking digital dimes” as newspaper companies scrambled to replace declining print revenue.
The solution was a “firehose” of digital ad formats and revenue partnerships. Local newspapers could increase the number of ad positions on their websites, and get more creative with them, start selling advertising with text messages, email newsletters, mobile apps, business directories, video. They could do revenue shares with weather, entertainment, business and social media plug-ins from third parties who needed your local audience, and they could sell local businesses into national programmatic advertising networks and take a cut off the top.
But there are inherent problems with throwing everything against the wall at the same time. It can lead to websites and mobile sites larded up and slowed down by plug-ins, and the effectiveness of any one revenue ploy hampered by the same reader being targeted by a dozen ad positions and partners.
It also runs up against the performance of sales reps who used to sell two or three products and are now being asked to pitch 20. New products get rolled out, reps focus on them while management is focused on their launch, and then their contribution to overall revenue suffers as the next new thing becomes the focus. And there’s a limit to the revenue growth possible from 10 new products if all 10 are aimed at the same advertisers who have only so much money to spend. Money gets switched from an old product to a new one, based on how you’re incentivizing and managing your reps.
A natural evolution of Paton’s “firehose” strategy would be to look beyond the traditional role of sales rep and consider what kinds of jobs are necessary to support a new mix of revenue at news media companies. This is especially relevant as the mix has shifted over the past year away from near-complete reliance on traditional display advertising and toward reader revenue, sponsored content and other categories.
Some revenue-supporting jobs that would go beyond the traditional sales rep role might be:
Data specialist. How well are you tracking the effectiveness of each ad position on your site, it’s viewability, and the revenue it’s bringing in per impression? Could fewer ad positions actually increase your revenue? Do you have the capacity on staff now to run models that could give you that answer? Are you looking at data on reader behavior to optimize subscriber conversions? What if leaving a particular investigative news story up on the home page led to fewer page views for that particular day, but resulted in subscriptions that dwarfed the revenue you’d get from those page views? And finally, have you compared the reports that local businesses are getting (in real-time) about the performance of their Google and Facebook advertising with what you are offering them? It could be an important part of why it’s difficult to compete with them.
User experience czar. When and how are readers bailing because of the difficulty of navigating your site? What is the process like for advertisers from the minute they call you or talk to a sales rep to when their campaign is over and they get a bill?
Ad ops specialist. Are you running programmatic advertising on your site? How are you monetizing inventory that is not being sold locally? Is it on auto-pilot, or is someone working with the various networks and partners out there to optimize the CPM rates you get for each impression?
Sponsored content editor. There are several roles in this new revenue mix that require a leap over or straddling of that traditional wall between the business and editorial sides of a newspaper. The stats on effectiveness and growth of native advertising and sponsored content are eye-popping, and it simply works better for advertisers—and for readers—if it’s handled by someone with a strong editorial background.
Member concierge. Subscription revenue is another area that is much more of an editorial function if we’re talking digital than the traditional role of circulation departments selling the ability to deliver a print edition to someone’s driveway. It’s about buy-in to the editorial mission and role of the newsroom, and it’s about community engagement.
Thinking back to the limited overall budgets of those same old advertisers being pitched a dozen new digital products, there are beyond-the-sales-rep roles that could support other potentially important categories of revenue: an e-commerce “store manager” to develop original products and partner products, who would work closely with the native advertising folks; an event planner is essential if you want to get serious about special events revenue because the details can be overwhelming and low-ROI otherwise; or a B2B specialist looking at products that target revenue from businesses who don’t sell products or services directly to the public.
Matt DeRienzo is executive director of LION Publishers, an organization that supports local independent online news publishers from across the country. He is a longtime former newspaper reporter, editor, publisher and corporate director of news.