Finding new advertisers is the most difficult challenge for national, regional and local media sales. Local media is especially affected because of the pandemic’s impact on so many local businesses. The solution appears to be the evolution of an old, traditional form of communications, content, into the art of storytelling. Local businesses have stories they would like to tell that are often unique and compelling and have proven to drive their ad-spending ROI and generate additional ad revenue for local media offering a content marketing program.
An August 2021 Editor & Publisher Webinar explored this topic and the success of a branded content marketing campaign for Pamplin Media Group, which publishes 26 weekly and monthly community newspapers in the Portland, Ore. metropolitan area.
The project was jointly created by Mike Blinder, publisher, Editor & Publisher, and the Webinar host, and Julia Campbell, general manager, Branded Content Project, a Webinar panelist, in conjunction with Brian Monihan, vice president, Pamplin Media Group.
As a lead-generating opportunity for Pamplin, the project promoted a Webinar hosted by Blinder, entitled How to Grow Your Business Through the Art of Storytelling. Invitations were purposely sent to a list of local services businesses, such as realtors, law firms and others, that were not retail storefronts. More than 125 of these business owners attended the Webinar.
“Following the Webinar, we sent the list of attendees an online form asking them to rate the event and offered a free copy of my book, Survival Selling, in exchange for contact information for a business marketing evaluation,” said Blinder. “Pamplin received 24 responses almost immediately, which, with additional responses, generated over $200,000 in ad revenues from a two-month sales effort.”
“The new revenues and the opportunities for future revenues was a major benefit of the program Mike and Julia and Pamplin created, but of equal value was the exposure the program provided for us,” said Monihan. “It boosted our publications’ presence, reputations and especially their advertising value in their communities to drive growth during the second half of 2021 and into future years.”
The interest the Webinar generated in storytelling as a marketing content method was reinforced by the contribution of Corey Elliott, executive vice president, Borrell Associates, during the Editor & Publisher Webinar.
“2020 was the year of storytelling or branded content because how the pandemic caused many local businesses to change how they were operating and pausing their regular ad spending,” said Elliott. “Borrell surveys of local businesses during the past nine months found many are already using storytelling/content marketing successfully in many forms and many channels and digital in particular.”
Data from Borrell’s October 2020 survey of local businesses found informative videos at 58% were a very or extremely effective type of content marketing, followed by case studies at 56%, newsletters at 50%, social media posts at 45%, podcasts or audio segments at 44% and branded content at 39%.
Elliott shared Borrell’s recent June 2021 survey results in which local businesses said they were more confident about the general economy during the next six months. They also plan to spend more ad dollars and the increase in content marketing spending would more than double from 16% during 2020 to 37% during 2021.
Elliott explained despite branded content’s effectiveness for many local businesses and their plans to increase their ad spending for content marketing significantly during 2021, the research also found many local businesses didn’t know how to create, initiate and manage a content marketing program.
Helping local businesses take the first steps into content marketing was why the Branded Content Project was created, funded and supported by Facebook Journalism Project, Local Media Consortium and Local Media Association.
“Our research and Borrell’s and Pamplin’s experience with previous content marketing program made it clear there were many local businesses eager to utilize its value, but as Elliott said most don’t know how,” said Campbell. “Our purpose is to provide the education, tools and guidance so local businesses can put content marketing to work to increase their exposure as the expert in their field or business sector.”
“According to Borrell’s research which Elliott shared during the pandemic, ROI is the most important advertising/marketing factor for local advertisers,” said Monihan. “That’s why I like the Branded Content Project because it delivers the ROI most small advertisers are checking every day, which generates leads and ad revenues for us.”