How Newspapers Can Simplify Data and Turn Numbers into Dollar Signs

When it comes to data, collecting only a large amount of it means a whole lot of nothing these days. Numbers are great, but understanding how they work remains critical as ad revenue continues to tumble down. In order for a newspaper to see growth in advertising, publishers must make effective use of the treasure trove of information available. In other words, once you have all this data, a new and more important question arises: What now?

 Recognize the “Epidemic” and Pivot

This particular question is one that Michael Lombardo, CEO of Tactician Media, knows very well. The company works with more than 1,700 publishers throughout the country to provide them with clear strategies back by data to improve revenue and market performance.

Michael Lombardo

“Having lots of data that you don’t use is an epidemic in these local markets,” Lombardo said. “They know there is this need to put these numbers to work but need help in doing it.”

The questions for many publishers, Lombardo said, revolve around how to effectively target a business and whether or not they are pricing rates for advertisers appropriately. Tactician Media helps answer these questions by assessing a newspaper’s own internal transactional data alongside relevant key metrics from its CoreBI intelligence database.

“So what we do with the data, through the CoreBI process and the Market AI platform, is show all these things in a series of interactive dashboards,” Lombardo said. “We tell them here is exactly what to do and here are the products to actually go implement it.”

He alluded to one case where one of their newspaper clients was situated on a gold mine without even knowing it. “We studied the transaction data of this local market and found that within their region, (the pizza chain) Papa Murphy’s was the fastest growing businesses, and yet, the newspaper had zero from them, and not a single rep had even reach out to any of the 13 locations. That was a strategy right away.”

By using the company’s MarketAI suite of analytical and planning tools, the paper was then able to prepare a data driven proposal and close business with them.

Of course, throwing data at an advertiser and expecting them to easily grasp it would be unproductive. Therefore, publishers must ensure the information they provide is clear, concise and adds credibility to the recommendations they are making to that business.

“This simplification of data is just as critical when working with advertisers. It has to be visual, impactful and related to producing the highest ROI for the advertiser,” Lombardo said. “Successful publishers are ones that partner with their advertisers by helping them understand the local market.”

For Gabrielle Austin, director of major retail/centralized accounts at Cox Media Group, presenting easily understandable data stems from knowing exactly what the needs of the customer are.

“It can be absolutely overwhelming for the advertiser which is why it’s so important that you really understand their concerns. We translate the data for our customers into actionable insights to help them develop solutions for their own business,” she said. “You got to get the data to make sense for them.”

By clearly identifying those needs, you can bring forth this data into an analysis framework and extract the components that are relevant to them.

For example, if their concern is increasing foot traffic, a publisher may look at factors like traffic patterns, category sales trends, demographic and geographic information, competition and housing growth. Or if the business needs to drive e-commerce, then you may look at user buying habits and media usage.

Mark Cohen

As publisher of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal, Mark Cohen recognized the need to alter the mentality of how the paper viewed data and ultimately made use of it.

“The thing that we understand now is that it’s an age of metrics, measurement and ROI for customers. So we’ve got to communicate to not only our customers, but to our reps, that data is king,” he said. “You have to start with the philosophy that things are different now.”

That new way of thinking translated into a new approach of how the paper handled its longtime weekly home and garden section. Previously, the Beacon Journal would run the section for print on Sunday, insert it into the roughly 90,000 copies of that day’s edition and be done with it.

Instead, the paper decided to use data from Marketing Solutions Group (MSG) to target a specific group of people in the market that fit the demographics of the section more closely, and wound up delivering it to a targeted audience of 40,000.

“All of a sudden, we had a story to tell our customers. We were able to tell them that these folks who are receiving this glossy section are your customers and here is what they look like,” Cohen said. “It was a different approach for us, but we ended up doing quite well with it.”

The conversation between the newspaper and its advertising customers has evolved into a much deeper discussion, with data as the icebreaker.

“We know opportunities where we think they can spend in our market and what type of business they are doing with our competitors. Before, these were some of those things that we would charge out blind and kind of guess at,” Cohen said. “Now we have data and information that has enhanced the position of somebody who is selling those customers because now they have a leg up. It changes the entire conversation.”


Branch Out

Just as the digital world continues to evolve, so does the need for newspapers to explore new possibilities surrounding data. For Steve Gray, vice president of strategy and innovation at Morris Communications, one area was of particular interest—the world of predictive analytics.

Steve Gray

Predictive analytics uses massive amounts of data about purchaser behaviors, attributes and changes to determine which traits are the best predictors of the desired action. Those traits are then applied to large numbers of non-purchasers to see which are most likely to that same action. When these likely prospects are identified, they can then be marketed through highly targeted channels, reducing the costs of marketing.

While a typical programmatic ad program is built on data about the traits of likely buyers, predictive analytics is based on individuals who have already made the purchase. For media companies, Gray said predictive analytics can be most powerful for real estate and automotive customers—predicting who is most likely to list a home for sale and who is most likely to buy a car.

“The practice of identifying characteristics and behaviors of people is becoming more normal and if newspaper companies are not out there offering that they are rapidly falling behind the curve,” he said. “With predictive analytics, I’m trying to get ahead of that curve.”

After walking the floor of the national association of realtors convention last fall, Gray said he met with a few vendors who were already doing some sort of predictive analytics in the field of real estate. He identified one particular vendor as the best option that has now been working with Morris Communications for the past five or six months.

In the Augusta, Ga. market, where the media company publishes the Chronicle, Gray said they embarked on a special test project involving generating leads for local real estate agents and brokers. The vendor buys data for markets throughout the country and divides it into smaller than zip code blocks of a few thousand homes each. Their algorithm then takes a group of indicators, such as divorce filing or change in the number of children living at home, to predict when a house is likely to be listed on the market.

According to Gray, the paper’s sales team was able to sell all the zones in the market in about six to eight weeks. Every agent or broker who purchased a zone received a monthly list of leads and each score for the probability of listing home for sale in the next several months.


Give Them What They Want

The question of what data advertisers want to know is a broad one for good reason as each business has its own needs. Publishers can’t walk into a meeting with a potential client and just throw a bunch of data at them.

“I think what they need to bring to those meetings is an open mind. They need to bring an approach more than they need to bring data—at least to the first interaction with an advertiser or potential advertiser,” said Tom Ratkovich, founder and managing partner of LEAP Media Solutions. “That interaction is one that says I’m not here to sell an ad or to make a prescription without first offering a diagnosis. You need to first figure out what this advertiser’s business requirements are before you can go back and inform how you can put that to work.”

The company’s LEAP Dimensions Solution pulls all of a newspaper’s data together into a single, consolidated environment which allows for the managing of its customer relationships. A publisher can visualize the people that may be relevant to a particular type of advertiser and determine how to present that audience to that business.

According to Ratkovich, one of the data sources that could be of particular help are in an advertiser’s customer files. A sales rep could integrate that information with various other sources of data to produce a profile of who your best customers may be. Since those demographic characteristics are linked to the publisher’s entire portfolio of products, you can then begin to look at what elements of your products will help that advertiser reach its customers most effectively.

“They have to approach the advertising community from a diagnostic point of view and say, ‘What is the business problem here? What are your business objectives and who are you are trying to reach?’” Ratkovich said. “This is a problem that we see with some of our clients trying to leverage data to sell advertisers because the reps are not used to that type of consultative sale. It’s the biggest challenge I think the industry has from an advertising point of view.”

Adding value to the equation is also an important step. Though several factors came into play with a sales call to a local furniture store whose business they had been trying to earn for months, Augusta Chronicle president Stephen Wade noted that delivering value where competitors failed to do so was perhaps the most important.

Stephen Wade

“The owner was surprised to learn that we could do database work. We offered to analyze his customer base, give a good description of who they were and identify client growth opportunities,” Wade said. “He smiled as he thumped a 4-inch notebook onto the table that had extensive cross tabulated data and boasted how he had spent more than $20,000 on the project with a national analytics company.”

However, that smile faded when the paper informed him that they would also able to provide a recommendation on the messaging and delivery of his promotions to each prospective non-customer in his target geographic area.

“He lamented that his notebook didn’t give him that piece,” Wade said. “Strategy and tactics are key to success, and our competitor failed to deliver that part.”

As a partner of LEAP Media Solutions, the Chronicle was able to ingest the owner’s customer list into their database, enhance it with lifestyle data and return a written overview and list of prospective addresses. Surprisingly, the recommendation of the best way to reach new customers was through direct mail.

“The temptation to the rep was to present only the pieces that made the newspaper look the best. We resisted the urge and gave the furniture store owner the naked truth,” Wade said. “He too had expected the paper to show self-congratulating data and was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t massage or twist the recommendation. Consequently, we earned a campaign from him and gained a new advertiser.”

Lem Lloyd

Leading with the data is where newspapers can begin to break through the noise. Typically, the average SMB receives 80 to 100 calls a week from people trying to sell them something, said Lem Lloyd, Buzzboard senior vice president of revenue and business development. Buzzboard partners with more than 100 media companies and helps them quickly identify potential sales opportunities using the company’s data-driven SaaS platform.

“Instead of just calling up a potential customer and saying you want to sell something, let them know you’ve got some great data that you’d like to share,” Lloyd said. “What we find is the conversation rates for sales reps are much higher when you lead with this kind of consultative approach. It’s ultimately all about using the data to help your client achieve their goals.”

In addition, a common problem amongst newspaper reps, Lloyd said, is underestimating the digital spend of their clients.

“The propensity is to ask for too little because they are afraid they don’t have a clear understanding of the true amount of money being spent across the digital landscape by their potential clients,” he explained. “Buzzboard allows them to wise up, get educated and be confident they get their fair share.”

The idea that digital spend isn’t going anywhere was reaffirmed when Borrell Associates recently released some insights from its annual survey of local advertisers. When asked where they planned to cut ad budgets, only 2 percent of local advertisers mentioned digital advertising. On the other hand, 24 percent of respondents said they would reduce their newspaper ad budgets.

Gordon Borrell

“The fact that digital ad fraud has been a prominent story in the advertising and marketing trades seems to not have reached local advertisers at all. We aren’t asking questions about ad fraud, but we do ask about their biggest concerns about marketing and about digital media,” said Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates. “Ad fraud doesn’t even register. They’re more concerned about ROI and ‘time to figure everything out.’”

Despite this nonchalant attitude from so many local advertisers, Mather Economics made sure to include data validation as part of the onboarding process to the metricsXchange platform launched earlier this year. The platform, which was created in partnership with the News Media Alliance, allows newspapers to compare key digital metrics against publishers of a similar size or region of the country. They can also compare their own numbers to the overall national average as well.

Arvid Tchivzhel

“We actually have a team here that looks at the data and makes sure it’s correctly configured. If we see something that looks weird, we contact the publisher to resolve it,” said Arvid Tchivzhel, director of digital R&D at Mather Economics. “There are multiple layers of validation and check points.”

The platform offers a number of data points that may be of interest to advertisers such as ad blocking and power user metrics, which measures the engagement of the website’s top users.

“Those kinds of things would definitely be things you would share with advertisers as part of a sales campaign or sales strategy,” Tchivzhel said.

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One thought on “How Newspapers Can Simplify Data and Turn Numbers into Dollar Signs

  • August 14, 2017 at 6:41 am

    Great information, sharing with my colleagues in advertising.
    Kind of a different question though, why is everyone a white male in this article?
    Are women and men of color not expert in this field?


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