Forgive me, I’ve been a shamefully negligent blogger these past few months.
Between COO’ing at my own company and advising three others, I almost forgot how much I enjoy telling newspaper executives what to do! (Well, except for my role as a PostMedia Network digital advisor, but they actually want me to tell them what to do, which kind of takes the fun out of it).
1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s not about ads, it’s about ROI.
As Newsosaur Alan Mutter pointed out on his blog last week, the big guys (and some littler guys too) are coming after your local advertisers.
Google is expanding its GYBO.com (Get Your Business Online) program, Facebook is offering do-it-yourself extreme targeting and a CPC payment model. Then there’s Groupon, Living Social et al, Foursquare and a zillion different mobile products.
What do all these solutions have in common? They provide direct, measurable ROI to local advertisers. And believe me, that’s all local advertisers care about.
It used to be that an ad in the weekend newspaper would make the cash register ring. That’s because newspapers used to be as much about shopping as they were about news. Think about it - a news hole of only 50% meant that the rest of the newspaper was all about display ads, classifieds, special sections and flyers. And because of that shopping environment, they delivered excellent results to their advertisers.
But now, shopping is a thing that is done digitally. Even if we don’t always buy online, we’re most certainly doing our product research, feature comparing and deal hunting there.
And over time, newspapers have become less effective at making the cash register ring. The old days of slapping up a display ad and not proving that its working are well behind us. Just ask the folks at Patch. Or ask your advertisers. You'll quickly find that the more they know about which advertising vehicles are driving their sales, the less likely they are to buy display ads.
Asking print reps to sell digital display packages is a short-term solution that takes advantage of the knowledge gap of many retailers who have yet to learn the many advantages of digital advertising. This is not a long-term strategy. Far from it.
News organizations are going to have to spend a lot more time studying what works and what doesn’t for their advertisers.
Gannet, Tribune and the Tennessean are taking advantage of the knowledge gap in a different way. Through products such as Gannett Local, 435 Digital and 1100 Broadway they’re helping local advertisers navigate the digital advertising world. They’re saving them time and providing proof of ROI.
The contextual environments of content verticals drive a much higher click through rate than running the same ads in an environment of unrelated content. In my experience, behavioural advertising and re-messaging ads can out-perform even so-called “high-impact” display ads by a factor of 10:1. Who in your organization is thinking about these and other ROI focused products?
It’s time to get serious about understanding the online advertising world. Competing in this space is not a part-time job. Nor is it for the faint of heart.
2. It’s time to get greedy about talent.
I don’t mean to be alarmist, but no one wants to work for you.
Let’s face it. It’s all about supply and demand. Great digital talent, especially at the executive level is very difficult to find and even more difficult to keep.
It’s not personal, it’s just that you’re not as exciting as other digital companies, nor do you offer the (even remote) possibility for your employees to become multi-millionaires as a result of an IPO. On top of that, you’re old media, with old processes and old...well, you’re just old.
Actually, it’s not just newspaper companies that are challenged in the talent department. AOL has had a 50% turnover at the executive level in the past 6 months and even the mighty Twitter is having trouble keeping engineers and executives.
Sites such as LinkedIn and PleasePoachMe make it easier than ever for your competitors to find and to start a nice chit-chat with your talent. If you’re going to keep them, you’re going to have to start thinking very differently.
Give them control over their products and strategies. You’ve hired them to do a job. Trust them. Don’t force them to keep explaining why the sky is blue - they hate that. (I once had the CEO of a large media company ask me why digital people working for mainstream media companies are all so very bitter. Constantly having to explain basic digital concepts is one of the reasons). Get lots of great digital people, not just one or two. That way they can collaborate, as well as push and energize each other. And for Godssake, don’t have them report to non-digital people (and most definitely not the CFO).
And here’s the big one....Give them a piece of equity in the new products they create for you. You heard me. Equity.
Not willing to go there? Well, feel free to sit back and watch as start-up after start-up start eating away at the local revenue you have left.