By: Rich Kane
In the face of declining print advertising revenues and a newspaper industry that, on the surface, seems stuck in a discombobulated state of flux—what to do about mobile? Is print dead, or isn’t it? Is going native the way of the future? What’s this about viewability and programmatic buying? Maybe it’s best to just stop, breathe deeply and not panic.
After all, that 12-year-old kid who’s developing apps in his bedroom right now, ones which will change newspapers, advertising and Life As We Know It forever? No one will hear from him for at least another decade.
In the meantime, E&P rounded up a group of managers, publishers, techies and newspaper consultants, and asked them what’s working, what’s not, and what they think the next big thing might be in advertising. While there may not be a secret golden talisman that concretely resolves every concern, some newspapers are reeling in actual profits right now.
Erie (Penn.) Times-News
Chief technical officer
We’re showing our local advertisers that they can do audience segmentation—who their customers are and what they like, and match them up with our portfolio products. And whenever we spin one of these out, they’re just floored. They feel they finally know their audience and how they behave.
Over the summer, we started using Tout, a short-form video sharing site where users can make their own brief videos, essentially letting them create and upload their own advertising. Our reporters are doing it, so we took Tout and flipped it upside down. We sold it to one auto group, and now have two different dealers using it. They’re paying us so much a month, and we’re running it on the news and sports fronts. They did an ALS ice bucket challenge, calling out other car dealers, and they knew that people would see the videos and click through to their website, and they did. Now we’re getting ready to take Tout to local realtors as well. It’s great! It gives our clients their own user-friendly video channel.
We’ve also been doing Web services, websites, and event production, and we’re doing double-digit growth now because we have more reps selling those. We’ve partnered with YieldMo for mobile ads, and we think that’s going to be very successful. The bottom line is to try and sell everything as a package, I think that’s key.
And we have platforms set up for native advertising. I realize there’s some controversy on that, but when you hear about all the cuts newsrooms are facing, you’d be surprised how many journalists are willing to adapt.
The Day (New London, Conn.)
Director of marketing and digital coordination
Farrugia: We’ve jumped pretty aggressively into sponsored content, taken our real estate and auto weekly sections and turned them over to the marketing department. We’re now up 25 percent over last year.
Our new digital-only magazine, Homes of Distinction, has been more successful than I expected. We bought 275,000 high-end email addresses and used the magazine as part of our drive to make this new email database our central nervous system for our business operation. We filled it in with lifestyle and demographic info, and spun our database division into a separate company called Leap Media Partners, and some 29 other newspaper markets are using that.
Moses: For sponsored content, we went out and hired talented writers. I hired a former Patch journalist and all he does is generate great copy. Our Homes of Distinction move was so successful, the plan overlapped to a magazine called Connecticut Family and an annual wine-and-dine guide, all made possible by the creation of the sponsored content team. Our weekly home section is up 13 percent. August was up 30 percent over prior. It all comes from analyzing the data and emailing the digital magazines out to folks who are most likely going to want to see them.
We’re now close to launching a new platform, an app that will allow some virtual reality experiences. The print ads will include triggers like a photo or headline, and it works for our content as well—you’ll pass your smartphone over an ad, and it could be a link to a video or an offer, and we see that as creating an interactive experience through print. Will that preserve print for a few more years? I don’t know, but we have to try new things, and every day we’re looking at ways to preserve what we have, or make sure we’re out in front of what’s coming.
Santa Rosa (Calif.) Press Democrat
Former publisher, now a consultant with Guarantee Digital
I speak at a lot of conferences and give presentations, and I’ve seen a real lack of consistent direction. There’s a lot of discussion about sponsored and native content, but it depends on each market and what’s working for you. At one recent conference, I met a guy who doesn’t want to do digital because he doesn’t want to distract his staff from what they’re doing with print and that works for him right now. There are still a lot of traditional things you can do with print, old strategies like special products, magazines and telemarketing, which is fine—but we know newspapers are declining in ad revenue 7 to 9 percent a year, and local digital ads are increasing at 40 percent a year.
When I was at the Press Democrat, we reorganized the ad department in a pretty significant way. We required everyone as a condition of employment to sell digital. It was a certified training program, and you had to take the course and pass it at all four levels. It was a culture change, and along with that, we also changed compensation. It’s a very similar model to what Gannett uses now.
Targeting works—if you’re not offering your customer these things, you’re sort of missing the boat. What happens is, the ad rep will go to the customer and ask them what their customers look like, profile them—mothers, teens, whatever—then the rep takes those customers back to a traffic manager and says, this is what we have to offer our advertiser, and they’ll take that information and use it. Retargeting also work—that’s when someone goes to a website looking into a pair of shoes, and an ad for shoes will keep popping up on different sites they visit because a cookie has been attached to it. Those are the most hardcore growth areas right now.
Smaller newspapers are getting smarter about how they approach advertising. When you get down to four or five ad sales reps, a lot of their sales are based on relationships they have had over the years. Now they’re getting more structured, getting their customers on frequency plans, and when the advertiser sees results from those, that works out well for the newspaper.
The Telegram (St. Johns, Newfoundland)
Advertising sales manager
The print market in Canada has traditionally been very strong, as is our circulation and readership, but we also see the biggest losses as shifts occur. In the U.S., that shift has already taken place over time.
Still, we’ve adopted a digital first strategy. When we meet with a client, we have experts in print and digital who are figuring out what their overall needs are versus the old-fashioned way of asking, “Do you want to buy a quarter-page today?”
And we’ve seen a lot of pickup. There’s still a perception out there that a newspaper isn’t relevant, so we need to show our offering in a different light, and educate them that we’re much more than a newspaper.
Year over year, we’re meeting our targets, and we’ve seen huge digital growth. Over 70 percent of our local clients are buying something that’s digital, and we’ve been able to recapture over 60 percent of our print losses. It helps that we have over 50 products we can sell, including Web design, search engine optimization and multi-platform bundles. It’s new, but it’s exciting at the same time. Everything we’ve done to evolve has let us become more customer-focused than ever.
Deseret Digital Media (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Vice president of advertising strategy and performance
Display ads are tougher to sell all the time, and click-through rates are declining, so to properly represent a client, we’ve had to be more innovative.
Users can become banner-ad blind, so we’ve tried to get our ads seen in different ways. We have a sliding billboard unit, which will auto-expand when the user first arrives on the site, then it collapses to a small band. We’ll add sponsorships to our navigation and sub-navigation, so when a user hovers over a tag like the Utah Jazz, they’ll see “Sponsored by…” That way it’s not disruptive to the user experience.
There’s a separate tab on the home page called Brand View, where we have advertisers who work with us to make sponsored content. That could be video or a story, something like “What you need to know about hand, foot and mouth disease,” and it’s sponsored by the University of Utah Health Care. It has to be compelling content that’s useful to the user, as well as engaging and shareable on social media. We’re not trying to be like Buzzfeed, but if 3,000 people read that article, I hope they bring along a few thousand others.
We’re seeing ad engagement that can sometimes be higher than the engagement of our editorial content. We’re also seeing longer time spent on our page and scroll depth that goes up to 50 to 70 percent. [Scroll depth measures how far a user scrolls down a page before they abandon it.]
The transition from desktop users to mobile users is a challenge. Because the ads are so small, they have to be even less intrusive—that, or the ads have to take over the entire screen. The question then becomes, how many times can I interrupt you with an ad that takes over your entire screen? We’re trying to figure out that balance. That’s one of the reasons I’ve ordered the new larger screen iPhones, to see if we can create a better ad experience.
And with native ads, you have to disclose it very well so you don’t trick your users. There’s a real tension over that between church and state, advertising and editorial. We have to be clear, so we don’t allow our freelance ad content writers to write any editorial articles.
We believe all the stats that say display ads will keep declining, but targeted ads will continue to grow. There will always be a place for a display ad, but they just have to be targeted better and made more relevant to people.
Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Press
I think papers have been lazy—we’re not in a monopoly anymore, we’re competing with a lot of other mediums and methodologies. You have to be in front of the customer when they’re ready to make a buy—and customers are in the market to buy every day.
We finished last year up over 18 percent on display ads, and we’re on track to finish up this year over five percent, and that could get better.
My biggest challenge is to recruit a sales team to preach the gospel. We try to provide sales incentives and new products to give them something to talk about, and we have a pretty intense accountability. I meet with every sales rep at least once a week for an hour and find out what they’re working on. And I think that’s the bare minimum.
We designed our sales kits to sell ad packs, using the bundling of digital and print to reach the marketplace. All of them are designed to run a minimum of one ad a week. We quit offering one-time runs, because we know that won’t do the job—and if we would sell them something that won’t work, shouldn’t we sell them something that would work?
Newspapers are probably the only media in the country that lets people buy ads that won’t work. TV, radio and the Internet won’t do that. Nobody sells you one 15-second spot on the radio, and one small space in the paper one time only won’t do much for you, either.
Digital has been a slow process. We couldn’t train our reps in digital until they acclimated to the social change that’s happened across the country, but it’s been working. We’re up 16 percent year over year in digital.
Papers are in a great position to capitalize on the way digital information marketing is changing. Everything is based on search, and that search evolution has brought us back to where newspapers are in a position to be rewarded for what we do best, which is going out and getting fresh content.
We’re a small community, and most of our business comes from independent, small businesses, so the more help we can give them, the more that ensures we’ll have a relationship that is sustainable, and we can get more of their marketing dollars. Before, our sales people were trained to only sell space. That world does not exist today.