After seeing a big increase in traffic — particularly among college students — work at The Sacramento Bee began on a redesigned mobile site and the development of an Android app, with educated and affluent consumers in mind, explains says Darrell Kunken, research director. Success there led to further work with its newspaper consortium partner, Yahoo!

But The Sacramento Bee remains more excited about tablets than smartphones for now. “We are excited and maybe a little intimidated by the growth of tablets,” says Francesca Lewis, the company’s senior vice president/advertising. “If the Bee cannot develop fast internally, we will go to third-party partners.”

Car dealers are seeing their customers doing investigative work on the smartphone platform, says John Castillon, The Sacramento Bee’s automotive sales manager.

Seeing both problem and opportunity, the Bee is asking how to monetise the smartphone platform and how to offer the same targeting capabilities on the smartphone that the Bee has developed for tablets.

“Speed to market really matters,” Lewis says, “but there are fewer dollars in the digital world. So we are working to have the broadest digital portfolio possible.”

One factor the company is considering is the number of options smaller businesses have, which can be overwhelming. Because of this marketplace reality, The Sacramento Bee will need to offer a self-service capability, Lewis says.

The Bee has “a couple of big competitors offering location-based work” and finds itself always trying to budget against them, Castillon says.

A few years ago, the Bee’s geo-targeting was at the DMA (designated marketing area) level. Lewis finds that suits “the auto guys [who] look to a larger reach and geo-targeting around their competitors. They also tend to be early adopters and are always challenging the Bee to come up with the latest and greatest.”

This led to the development of an app in 2009 and the offering of more sophisticated capabilities in the last three years. The auto category, Lewis adds, was the first to buy into the Bee’s mobile platform and has remained with it.

Now it can narrow down to a one-mile radius for advertisers, who can also benefit from the draw of The Sacramento Bee’s editorial content. Compared to car dealers, a dry cleaner, for example, would aim closer in.

Recently, the company launched Capitol Alert Insider, from which The Sacramento Bee is already “starting to see traction,” says Blair Dickey, digital accounts manager. The Bee expects a lot more when the legislature returns to session. Key aspects to the app:

    • It’s a subscription product, at US$20 per month, used mostly by legislative staffers for whom it serves as “another channel to distill their information,” although legislators, lobbyists, and agencies are also tapping into this resource.

    • The Sacramento Bee used a focus group while developing the app, and the editorial team drives its content. McClatchy Interactive worked with Apple to further improve it: “At launch, the buzz on Twitter was pretty amazing,” Dickey says.

    • The Bee hopes to monetise the app through advertising as well as subscription. A major public utility has shown interest, but “we need to have the legislature in session and some audience history before we can expect any commitments,” Lewis says. “It’s a premium audience. We’ll sell it at a high CPM.”

This is one of 17 case studies featured in the recent INMA strategic report “The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies.” For more information on this report, free to INMA members, click here