Unblock Those Ads With These Five Compelling Advertising Strategies

The threat of ad blocking has many newspaper publishers shaking in their boots. But fear not, some of the industry’s latest advertising trends can not only improve a newspaper’s bottom line, but also engage audiences in a way they won’t want to block.

From more traditional offerings like preprint inserts to contemporary strategies such as virtual reality, advertisements need to be creative and compelling in their own right to keep even the most distracted reader’s attention. It isn’t enough anymore to simply put an ad in front of a reader, publishers need to pull in their audiences, and it all starts with making advertising worth their while.

Improve with Collaboration

In April, some of the biggest media companies in newspaper publishing (Gannett, Hearst, McClatchy and Tribune Publishing) created a joint content marketing solutions venture in order to cast a wider net in the market.

Called Nucleus Marketing Solutions, the newly formed network boasts it will have access to 70 percent of consumers in the top 30 U.S. advertising markets. Nucleus is headed by former Mashable chief revenue officer Seth Rogin, who says he joined because he’s compelled to support quality journalism, and he believes Nucleus is going to change the way news is purchased by marketers.

Seth Rogin, Nucleus Marketing Solutions CEO
Seth Rogin, Nucleus Marketing Solutions CEO

“The idea here is really to add economy to scale and serve brands in a way that makes sense as the market evolves,” Rogin said. “Nucleus will bring digital solutions (and it) will bring print solutions, but the idea is any time a big national brand or global brand wants to interact with this audience, at this scale, in this kind of environment of trust, we want to be the source for that.”

By opening up the market to advertisers, the potential to reach consumers is at an all time high. A solution like Nucleus can provide legacy newspapers with the energy and innovation of a startup and give them access to brands they may not have been able to reach before.

In addition, some of the top brands will now have easier access to publishers through data insights, aggregated scale and a sort of one-stop-shopping strategy. Rogin acknowledged that the process of ad buying has become more difficult for brands and CMOs to decide where they want to invest their dollars.

“This will hopefully simplify the process and give them the scale they’re looking for at the same time,” he said. “Every brand now wants data behind where decisions are made and data driven buying shouldn’t be something that publishers should be shying away from. It’s something we should run towards. News publishes have a great audience and a great environment of trust, and those two things together are rarer than we all think.”

Response from the marketplace has been overwhelmingly positive, said Rogin. Although he couldn’t comment yet on future partners or advertising strategies, Rogin is hopeful that the future of Nucleus will be exciting.

“What would make me happy is to truly have advanced the connections between some of the world’s biggest brands and some of the most important news environments,” Rogin said. “If we can look back a year from now or two years from now and know that we sort of cracked this case so that the most important journalism can be funded by the most prestigious brands, we’ve all won.”

The Grind, a player-of-the-week feature in the Forsyth County News, pictured in print includes sponsorship.
The Grind, a player-of-the-week feature in the Forsyth County News, pictured in print includes sponsorship.

But you don’t have to be an industry giant to take advantage of collaboration in the newsroom. The Forsyth County News in Cumming, Ga., a three-day a week newspaper with a 12,000 circulation, isn’t afraid to break down long held silos between editorial and advertising to create the best product possible. The newspaper is creating opportunities for sponsored content through a player-of-the-week series, called “The Grind,” and through features like “When I Grow Up,” which highlights elementary aged children talking about what they hope to be when they grow up.

“If (our reporters) find something that we’re currently doing or we’re doing it on a regular basis and if we sold a sponsorship or advertisement around it, that doesn’t dilute the power of the message,” said publisher Vince Johnson. “It’s just something that’s part of a sponsorship and gives value to the advertiser and gives value to the reader and gives additional value to us and helps make our property more viable.”

Johnson said there is some content, such as investigative pieces or hard news, that’s off limits to sponsorships, but community news that attracts readers and sponsors can work in tandem to serve both.

He said their content sponsorship strategy is becoming a significant part of their revenue, and is a way for editorial staff members to attribute revenue to the work they’re doing.

“It makes it a lot easier to staff editorially, because you can say ‘They’re bringing in revenue,’” he said. “The days of, if you’re on editorial, and you don’t have worry about the business side what so ever, I think that’s a little naïve. If we don’t run our business successfully, editorially it doesn’t matter what you say, because you won’t be able to say anything.”

He added, “I just think the collaborative environment between editorial and advertising has to improve within newspapers. I think that’s the way advertising is going.”

Preprints/Inserts Sustains  

Forget how “print is dying,” the medium still accounts for more than $16 billion in advertising spending for newspapers, according to Statista. The perception that because newspaper circulation is down, readers aren’t interested in preprint inserts is unfounded.

Susan Jacobs, MediaWorks vice president and general manager
Susan Jacobs, MediaWorks vice president and general manager

According MediaWorks vice president and general manager Susan Jacobs, based on research about the Sunday Select program (an opt in program that allows readers to get inserts without newspaper content), 80 percent of people who get a newspaper on Sundays pay attention to the inserts and nine out of 10 people take a specific action based on a circular they have seen.

“When an advertiser puts an insert into the paper…consumers take action whether that’s to come into their store or to go onto their website to do further research,” said Jacobs. “To me that’s compelling. Along with whenever we go out and talk to retailers, they do share with us that the circular is really the number one driver of store traffic into their stores.”

A recent Coda/Triad Newspaper Insert study (ow.ly/4nnBDU) aligns the Sunday Select research with inserts in general. The study found that two-thirds (66 percent) of newspaper readers either always or regularly look at inserts and that newspaper inserts drove 90 percent of readers to take specific actions after reading or looking at the inserts. Fifty-eight percent of readers visited a store or advertiser’s location after viewing an insert, and 41 percent of readers went as far as to purchase a product advertised in a newspaper insert.

“There’s a large audience out there, especially millennials and millennial moms, and they are looking for coupons. It is a tried and true vehicle that they can turn to every week,” Jacobs said.

With the rise of e-commerce and online shopping Jacobs is sure the circular will have to evolve.

“We’re seeing a lot of similarities between sort of what’s happening in the retail landscape as well as what’s happening in the publisher landscape. A lot of their business is evolving into e-commerce,” she said. “I see that circulars will still play an important role in driving traffic whether it’s online traffic or online sales or store traffic or store sales. But I do think there’s going to be an evolution in being able to deliver this content in additional ways such as on a mobile device. So I do think there will be an evolution, but the printed circular is still making an impact on e-commerce sales.”

In order to create the best inserts, Jacobs suggests some best practices. First, publishers should make it easy to do business, which means auditing practices, projecting their processes, and managing the quantity that come into distribution facilities. Second, it’s important to leverage data for more targeted advertisements through publisher and customer data to better understand the best channels to reach consumers.

A native advertisement by the Post and Courier about season fishing.
A native advertisement by the Post and Courier about season fishing.

Native Advertising Continues to Grow

At the Post & Courier in Charleston, S.C., senior director of sales Brad Boggs said they’ve seen a tremendous amount of success with their native advertising program. The newspaper began creating native content for advertisers about two years ago and while they started off slow, they now consider it a “go-to product for advertisers that want to make a play in social media,” Boggs said. They create an average of 15-20 native ads a month.

“Our native effort is an ongoing process with new ideas implemented frequently. In the early stages of us launching the product, we noticed it gravitated more towards higher end clients with larger budgets, but as of late the SMBs are also catching on to the value native advertising can bring to their businesses,” Boggs said. “On our side of things, we try to find as many ways to get the content out there to not only our audience, but an extended audience as well.”

While native ads are proving to be successful— Statista reports spending on native ads is expected to reach $5.7 billion this year in the U.S.—there is still a stigma surrounding the strategy.

“Most of those negative views are made up by internal thought processes from an old school line of thinking,” Boggs said. “Why not let the reader decide what content they want to engage with? If the content is interesting, entertaining, informative and accurate, then I have a hard time accepting there is any stigma attached to native advertising.”

In order to create the best native content for advertisers and readers, Boggs said he strongly encourages other publishers to clearly label their native ads, and getting the content in front of as many eyes as possible is important.

“We figured out early on that if the content is the fire, then social media is the gasoline. In order for a native campaign to reach its full potential, it is important to put the message out there for the social audience to see,” Boggs said. “As consultants to our advertisers, we encourage them to post the story on their social media platforms just as we post the content to our audiences. We also invest a small amount in boosting the post to reach the desired target demographic which allows for an extension of reach.”

Celebrity chef Curtis Stone interacts with an audience member at the Altoona Mirror’s 2009 Taste of the Alleghenies food show.
Celebrity chef Curtis Stone interacts with an audience member at the Altoona Mirror’s 2009 Taste of the Alleghenies food show.

Event Marketing Explodes

At The Altoona (Pa.) Mirror, events have been a staple since 2004, but recently, they decided to rebrand and expand their event marketing strategy by launching Altitude Entertainment in March.

“After a decade of experimentation and growth, we wanted to create a separate brand for our events to really drive home the point that they are a key part of our future and not a fad or an ‘add on,’” said general manager Ray Eckenrode.

The Mirror offers readers community events, vendor shows lifestyle expos and celebrity speakers, and Eckenrode said they plan to continue those events, but the new Altitude is meant to put a greater emphasis on “fun, and remind us how exciting our industry can be.”

The Mirror will be expanding into concert promotion, comedy and traveling musicals, and will reach out to community businesses to help them create their own events.

Over the years, the Mirror’s events have drawn crowds that have included 5,000 attendees, such as the paper’s three-day outdoor and food shows that have grossed six-figure revenue, Eckenrode said.

They’ve also experimented this year with “micro events.”

“Simple three-hour offerings like floral designing or art instruction that take very little staff time and include very little expense because we use our own facility,” Eckenrode said. “An event like this might turn a $1,500 profit with 40 attendees, not much on its own, but if we strategically place six or eight ‘micro events’ at natural lulls in our larger event schedule those dollars add up.”

Eckenrode said one of the biggest challenges can be figuring out how to staff these events. Currently, they use employee volunteers and volunteer students or people in the community.

“Events are money-makers for newspapers because they follow a tried-and-true formula for success: They create a unique and powerful audience that we can ‘sell’ to advertisers,” Eckenrode said. “Events connect with the community because they deal in the commodity of ‘experience,’ something that’s becoming increasingly important with millennials and Generation Y.”

For the best chance of success with events, Eckenrode advises to “start with events that have a proven record of success elsewhere.”

“When it comes to events, ‘talent borrows, genius steals’ definitely applies,” he said.

Get Real with Virtual Reality

Kelly Andresen, vice president of branded content at Gannett
Kelly Andresen, vice president of branded content at Gannett

Virtual reality is on the horizon for many publishers and Gannett has been an early adopter of the platform. The media company is currently developing a weekly show called “VRtually There” that will feature VR content from the newsroom as well as VR branded content, according to Kelly Andresen, Gannett’s vice president of branded content.

“We are looking to define what advertising could be in VR. With the absence of an industry standard, we have an amazing opportunity to help shape a brand new advertising experience in VR,” she said.

For example, Gannett partnered with Honda to create a virtual ride in a two-seater Indy Car around a real race track and with Tourism Australia to bring viewers on a virtual journey through Australia. The campaigns launched in May and were distributed in 360-degree video for desktop, mobile Web and on the company’s mobile app.

All of the VR branded content is built in-house. Gannett has even hired people with storytelling and technical skills for its branded content studio, GET Creative, to work specifically on VR campaigns and advise clients on best practices.

“There is not a sales meeting that we attend that VR doesn’t come up,” Andresen said. “Advertisers are interested in learning more about the technology, audience, capabilities, and distribution.”

She said they’re focused on branded content in VR rather than traditional ads. While Andresen noted that technology in the VR space is moving at a rapid speed, it’s important for publishers to be prepared to “constantly innovate and adopt a very nimble approach to storytelling.”

“We believe VR is the future of storytelling and journalism,” Andresen said. “Early investments in the technology and experimentation in storytelling in this brand new medium will pay off as the viewing hardware becomes more widely available and adoption grows.”

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2 thoughts on “Unblock Those Ads With These Five Compelling Advertising Strategies

  • June 6, 2016 at 5:06 am

    I will stop blocking ads when I have assurance from the publication that the ads will not:
    1. Go into a loop and force me to close the browser.
    2. Cause the text to move up and down, interrupting my reading and making it difficult to pull a quote.
    3. Take over the entire browser page for a period of time.
    5. Produce a pop up.
    6. Force me to watch a video.

  • June 6, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Perhaps giving users the option to purchase high-quality content that is ad-free should be on the list. I would argue the 90%+ of publications can’t afford to try VR, but could easily try a paid content model.


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