Despite the past year’s challenges, I’m overwhelmingly excited as we head into 2024. As a perpetual optimist, I eagerly anticipate a new advertising sales phase. I’m expecting this upcoming era to redefine strategies, transforming how we assist advertisers in establishing stronger connections with audiences.
Amid the hustle and bustle of 2023, I had the privilege of networking with diverse news outlets nationwide. While I am grateful for every interaction, experience and connection, last year underscored the importance of local news organizations evolving to better engage with advertisers and serve communities. It also brought attention to noticeable areas for improvement in current strategies related to communication with advertisers and audiences. It also highlighted the need for a more thoughtful, sponsorship-oriented approach, indicating the importance of refining methods for more effective engagement and service. I recognized this as emerging news organizations acknowledged sponsorship and audience revenue's crucial role in achieving their sustainability goals.
In 2023, as an industry, we embarked on a journey to address the complexities of revenue sustainability, news media sales and audience development. Along the way, we faced challenges that prompted essential conversations with industry leaders, fostering a renewed perspective for the future. As we approach 2024, the momentum gained appears to be a turning point, symbolized by a downhill snowball effect, signifying a rising tide for news media — and an upcoming increase in confidence, pride and community loyalty, ensuring sustained progress and illuminating a brighter path forward. I'm convinced this year will be dedicated to strengthening the bond between advertisers and audiences, fostering a culture of continuous improvement and collaboration. This commitment ensures that the future of local news media remains vibrant and aligned with the diverse needs of the communities served. Furthermore, emerging trends complement this dedication, promising continued growth and a positive, sustainable trajectory.
I'm particularly excited about integrating more analytics into the advertising sales conversation. I believe analytics will play a vital role in transforming how we approach sponsorship and storytelling, reshaping our advertising strategies, and strengthening relationships. Unfortunately, in news media ad sales, we've yet to fully evolve and synthesize our ad sales conversations by leveraging analytics, especially regarding our audience. Hear me out; we’ve used data and audience analytics in news media ad sales presentations. However, this evolution lacks the timeliness and natural relevance to give advertisers jaw-dropping, unambiguous, clear and compelling benefits. Consequently, advertising with our news organizations hasn’t become the unequivocal no-brainer it could be.
While I understand the instinct to present general audience statistics for news sites or broader metrics like DMA and household reach for newspapers, I believe in engaging advertisers in deeper conversations. This approach goes beyond surface-level data and leverages analytics to offer more detailed, rational and logically sound advertising opportunities. It's about conveying not just demographic information but also understanding audience interests — the why behind their engagement and why the advertiser is an ideal sponsor. Exploring the specifics of audience analytics, similar to adding layers to a painting, enhances the depth of an advertising strategy. For instance, when discussing potential advertising with a financial adviser or local firm, conveying insights like “I reach a predominantly male audience interested in economic uncertainty” is more compelling than stating, “I reach an audience that is 70% male.” This refined approach improves the value proposition for sponsors, making the advertising opportunity more tailored and compelling.
Understanding basic analytics, like identifying which articles resonate most with the audience, helps make informed decisions about aligning resources with specific audience interests. This benefits the news organization and the advertiser, moving beyond generic viewership discussions. It allows for a confident presentation of what is offered, turning the advertising opportunity into a clear and compelling choice — a unique proposition for the sponsor, as opposed to a vague, open-ended option for any business seeking exposure.
A holistic approach
There’s another trend I’ve noticed among organizations — a more holistic approach to advertising solutions. I strongly believe in the value of a multi-product content platform offering customized solutions for diverse organizations nationwide. However, transitioning from print to online impact has presented challenges, especially with small and mid-size businesses.
Key strategies in digital advertising for news organizations include high-impact ad positioning, email marketing, newsletters and sponsored content, all of which will play a key role in 2024. The evolution aims to seamlessly deliver impactful concepts across print and digital platforms, fostering clearer discussions for executives nationwide. For instance, consider a solution for a sports apparel retailer involving a comprehensive advertising plan, including online takeover ads, print sports section ads and newsletter ads throughout the year, particularly during an Olympic year. This approach, supported by a refined sales pitch utilizing visual data and analytics, addresses the “why,” “when” and “how” of advertising with local news organizations.
Additionally, I believe micro-influencers will play a key role in news media ad sales in 2024. Integrating micro-influencers into content projects allows for partnerships aligned with the organization’s values and community connectivity. It creates opportunities for native advertising or sponsored content that contributes to the narrative of why advertising with the organization is beneficial. Consequently, discussions around engagement metrics will likely shift from clicks to focus on conversions, coupon redemptions, social interactions and brand enhancement resulting from advertising campaigns. This shift will vary nationwide, highlighting the need to further justify online advertising investments with more engaging and business-focused metrics.
AI in sales
One last key thing to remember for the upcoming year is the substantial transformation expected through the integration of generative AI, particularly in news media ad sales. Ad sellers are actively adjusting their strategies to harness the benefits of generative AI, focusing on its integration into the sales and revenue domain through thorough discussions and simulation exercises. Generative AI is crucial for streamlining processes, crafting a clear value proposition and empowering leaders to engage in meaningful conversations with potential advertiser sponsors. There is a specific emphasis on attracting and retaining new advertisers and sponsors through effective communication, streamlined processes and targeted training. This adaptation is especially vital for inexperienced news media ad sellers, startups or traditional editorial content leaders aiming to establish nationwide news platforms, as their sustained success hinges on forming partnerships with advertisers of varying sizes.
In 2024, the spotlight is on discipline — a year dedicated to drawing from the lessons of 2023. Looking at this year personally, I see it as a seamless continuation of the commitment to a healthy lifestyle established in 2023. Last year marked the breakthrough of barriers, and 2024 continues this trajectory towards health, prosperity and sustainability, approached with an intense focus. This is the time to recognize and amplify strengths within us and local news media. The commitment lies not only in refining existing strengths but also in identifying strategies for further enhancement. Beyond initial budget revisions and planning, the goal is clear: embrace disciplined innovation. That will involve mastering lessons, staying adaptable and maintaining a core commitment to delivering quality content and valuable resources to our audience. The aim is to be responsible community stewards, supporting local businesses and advertisers and ensuring consistent delivery of value to our audience.
Richard E. Brown is a News Media Alliance Rising Star recipient, the former director of renewals and digital sales strategy at LPi, and the former director of digital operations and sales of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He recently served as the head of digital subscriber churn for Gannett | USA TODAY NETWORK and is now the senior director of retention for The Daily Beast. He is a member of the board of directors for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation and is the owner of RE Media Holdings, LLC. Richard is available for consulting and can be reached at www.richardebrown.co
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