The hot topic at news organisations these days is the importance of putting up digital paywalls or meters to access the valuable content that we produce, and I’m all for it. We’re discussing the best approach for our own news company here in Eugene, Oregon – careful to not pull the trigger too quickly on a paid approach before we feel we have the best possible content plan and multi-platform coverage.
But amidst all the talk of valuing our content, we shouldn’t lose sight of valuing our ad space on the digital platforms. Most news companies are seeing gains year over year and month over month in digital advertising revenue (as are we). But the dreaded “added value” quotient of some of our larger print advertisers remains prevalent, and too often companies are approving free or incredibly low rate requests.
Without naming names, I know a large retail company here in the Northwest has shopped the “added value” request around to newspapers, with the justification they “spend a lot of money in print” and should get some online for free. A lot of groups are accepting this, just glad to keep the print spend the same as the previous year. The effect this has on future efforts to monetise the digital ad space is tremendous: It affects not only the groups that grant the requests, but it also sets a precedent for the rest of us who are trying to maintain and build the value equation for the digital components of our business.
Now, I’m the first to admit we need to be flexible with rates in order to get new advertisers into the digital ad space. I’m all for introductory rates and even some digital “added value” (though the words make me shudder) within a longer time commitment, with the understanding rates will eventually creep closer to rate card over time. But to accept the low, single-digit CPMs or to flat out provide digital ad space for no additional cost within a print buy just makes it that much harder to close the revenue gap between print and digital efforts in the future.
Given the option between giving ad space away to a large print advertiser and rejecting their request to instead run (carefully monitored) remnant ads or more house campaigns, or even providing bonus impressions to other (higher) paying advertisers, I’d suggest sticking to your guns. Tell the large print advertiser you see too much value in your digital space to provide free or low-rated space. There is too much blue ocean out there — in the form of advertisers who can be convinced of the value of the digital ad space — to waste valuable sales time (not to mention design, scheduling, report running, etc.) just giving it away.
Acknowledge the value of your digital ad space, and your advertisers will, too.