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Yes, local news media companies can make money from digital ad targeting

29 November 2015 · By Steve Gray

For several years, local media companies have been in a nasty predicament.

We’ve worked hard for years to build sizable, high-quality local audiences on our Web sites. And we’ve worked hard to sell banner advertising on those sites.

But we haven’t been able to sell what savvy digital advertisers now want and expect: highly targeted impressions on our sites reaching only the individuals with the highest propensity to buy their products or services.

We’ve been left behind.

All we’ve been able to sell are run-of-site banners seen by all visitors, or banners on certain pages or sections, or in-market impressions. These are clumsy and inadequate substitutes for the hyper-targeting that smart advertisers want today.

In digital marketing, the big buzz around Big Data is about the ability to compare each reader’s characteristics against an advertiser’s specs, and – if there’s a match – fire an ad into place in microseconds.

Everyone who uses the Web experiences this constantly. More and more, the digital ads you see are based on the sites you have visited, the content you’ve seen, and the searches you’ve done, matched up with your offline characteristics that Big Data companies have managed to ...


It’s time for news media companies to take Big Data to Main Street

03 November 2015 · By Steve Gray

What if your local media company had a product that could make local businesses say, “Wow! Can you really do that?”

That’s the Holy Grail of media sales – a solution that meets an urgent need for customers in a way they have never before thought possible.

I saw that kind of solution a couple of weeks ago. I promise you – it will be big.

Best of all, it’s within our grasp as local media companies, and nobody else seems to be taking it to the streets in our markets yet.

It won’t be long before someone does. We need to be the first.

What’s this exciting solution? It’s taking Big Data to Main Street.

That is, it’s helping local businesses use Big Data to hyper-target their most likely potential customers.

Big Data has been much discussed in the media business for several years.

As used by marketers, the term refers to the incredibly detailed data now available about individual consumers and households, compiled from ...


A 20-year story of employee newspaper ownership comes to an end

07 October 2015 · By Steve Gray

Photo from outside the front of the Monroe Publishing Company's offices

Twenty years ago, my family had a problem.

We were the sole and devoted owners of a successful stand-alone daily newspaper in Monroe, Michigan. But our principle shareholders – my father and his brother and sister – were advancing in years and had no solution in place to transfer ownership to my generation.

It seemed we had two options. We could keep going until one of the three died, which would force a distressed sale. Or we could move immediately toward sale, but take our time in finding a buyer who would continue our tradition of good journalism and service to the community.

Months passed without a decision. Then, almost by chance ...


8 marketing services your news media company should offer local businesses

13 September 2015 · By Steve Gray

When your comfortable, well-established business model is being disrupted, one of the toughest challenges is looking beyond your old business model to visualise what you must become.

In past posts, one by one, I’ve pointed out a host of new opportunities that are emerging in local media markets. In this post, I’m going to roll them up into a single new business entity we can visualise and work to develop.

Metaphorically, you could say we used to dominate our markets with a burger-and-fries kind of business. The burger was the media channel we owned – the space in the newspaper or the air time on our television channel or radio station.

We sold the burger to almost all of our accounts. And we also tried to sell them some fries on the side – such as banner ads on our Web sites and other ancillary products and services. But really, it was all about the burger.

Today, our audiences are consuming vastly more kinds of media than ever before. They still like burgers, but they’re all over the Web consuming offerings we didn’t create and probably can’t. To reach their target audiences, the businesses in our markets need more than just our burgers and fries.

And, as I wrote in my last post, we’re living in a direct-access world now, where businesses need to ...


Why direct access is a huge disruption of local media advertising

16 August 2015 · By Steve Gray

For local news media, the most crippling disruption served up by the Internet isn’t in news – it’s in advertising.

And it’s not just other players getting the ad spending we used to get, although there’s plenty of that going on.

The more insidious advertising disruption is that local businesses need less and less advertising than they once did.


Because the digital revolution has opened an infinite number of direct channels between consumers and businesses. This is a revolution happening right before our eyes.

In the old, pre-digital days, businesses had to buy space or time in other people’s media channels to reach consumers. The media – newspapers, radio, television, magazines, yellow pages – owned the pipes that went direct to the consumer. They had the audiences; businesses didn’t.

So businesses had to pay the media to push their advertising messages through their channels.

Now audience access is no longer exclusive, and ...


How to make money on mobile (hint: it’s not banner ads)

08 July 2015 · By Steve Gray

How to make money on mobile” — sounds like a great session for a publishers’ conference, doesn’t it? It’s a big topic for local media businesses these days, as Web traffic surpasses desktop traffic for more and more newspapers, magazines, and broadcast stations.

That’s why I spent an afternoon searching the Web recently. I was looking for a speaker who could nail this topic for an upcoming conference of a major U.S. newspaper association.

After a couple of hours, I gave up.

I had no problem finding people who were opining on what publishers should do on mobile. The supply seemed unlimited. But all of them were talking about how to get their own content read or consumed (video) on mobile.

As for making money, the only idea anyone seemed to have was banner ads.

Banner ads on mobile. Yuck.

Not that we shouldn’t try to get our content consumed on mobile. We absolutely should.

And not that we shouldn’t sell banner ads on mobile. We should.

But the money to be made there is minuscule. It will definitely grow a lot in the coming years — and even then, it will still be minuscule.

OK, then, where can local media find a real revenue ...


Local retailers need e-commerce, so let’s give it to them

14 June 2015 · By Steve Gray

A recent e-mail from Internet Retailer grabbed my attention.

Its purpose was to plug the new annual Top 500 Guide – a huge directory packed with stats on who’s big in e-commerce, who’s growing market share, and who’s not.

But what caught my eye was the take on what’s new in the data.

For years, it said, previous guides had shown big-box stores getting drubbed in e-commerce sales by Web-only e-tailers.

“But,” the e-mail said, “ ... that began changing in 2013, when the chains closed the gap by growing their online sales by 16.7%, taking market share away from manufacturers and catalogers. ...

“(T)he retail chains grew their share of the e-commerce market again ...


3 reasons to have hope for the media business model: Millennials, metrics, math

20 May 2015 · By Steve Gray

Lots of people understand that the traditional business model around news is breaking down. Far fewer realise it’s not just the business part – advertising – that’s broken. It’s also news itself.

Why is this so hard to understand?

A planet full of people is going from a daily diet of a newspaper and a couple of news broadcasts to constant access to almost everything there is to know. Inevitably, this is causing people today to want and expect different things from their time spent on content than people did 20 or 50 years ago.

But what we produce as news has hardly changed.

I’ve been banging the drum for content change for 10 years now, since the beginning of the now long-dead Newspaper Next project in 2005. It has often seemed like a lonely mission. The hardest thing to change in the deeply disrupted newspaper industry has been the definition of news.

But some new developments give me a little fresh hope:

  • A paper released a few weeks ago by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center for Media ...

Why publishers need to embrace — not dismiss — content marketing

23 April 2015 · By Steve Gray

Infinite bandwidth.

For those of us in traditional media, it’s the source of our problems, and it’s also the uncharted space of our new opportunities.

With bandwidth rising toward infinity and costs falling to near zero, it’s enabling all sorts of new content models to eat our lunch. “Free” digital bandwidth has enabled all of our disrupters, from early ones like Craigslist and Facebook to newer ones like BuzzFeed, Instagram, and SnapChat. And more will keep coming.

A disrupter that’s rising fast right now is content marketing.

That’s a broad and somewhat nebulous term, but let’s define it this way: It’s the practice of developing and distributing engaging content on behalf of a brand or a business. The object is to catch and hold a target consumer’s attention, hoping to convert him or her to a user of the brand or business.

It’s important to catch the difference here. “Advertising,” in the pre-digital era, had exactly the same purpose as “content marketing,” but it was confined to ...


Millennials, news, and the Borneo effect

17 March 2015 · By Steve Gray

It’s the Year of the Millennials, according to Pew. In 2015, those ages 18 to 34 will surpass Baby Boomers in the United States to become the largest living generation.

And a major new report by the Media Insight Project, just released at the NAA mediaXchange, sheds a lot of new light on their consumption of news.

The report (pdf, html) emphasises the bright side, stressing the finding that most Millennials do value news and consume it regularly. But the most worrisome finding for newspaper companies is that they rarely go to traditional news providers to get it. We are far back in the loop, when we’re in it at all.

Beyond that key point, the most important things to grasp in this report are ...


About this blog

I’m Steve Gray, and I blog about disruption in the media – why it’s happening and what to do about it. As the world’s information pipe expands to infinity, my goal is to help the news media industry see the new opportunities we can create in our markets. I led the American Press Institute (API) Newspaper Next project from 2005 to 2009, teaching thousands of media executives to create new business models. Since then I’ve worked on innovation projects with the newspaper, magazine and book divisions of Morris Communications in Augusta, Georgia, USA, where I am currently the vice president of strategy and innovation.

Contact Steve

Click here to message Steve

The basics of media disruption

Part I: The Mass Media era: a 150-year bubble

Part II: The end of the Mass Media Era

Part III: What about news?


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