A recent Ideas magazine article from Linda Sease, titled “A newspaper therapy session: letting go of the masses,” discusses the inability of newspapers to identify, quantify and position online audience delivery (Web site traffic) in meaningful terms for local advertisers.

Linda suggests that newspaper marketers suffer from “scalejacking,” a term coined by Dave Balter, CEO of BzzAgent, which is the “quest of marketers for (audience) size at all costs. Because marketers were raised on the scale of mass (audience) — TV, radio, newspapers — they have a churn and burn mentality. The Internet turns this concept upside down as the Internet is about who, not the how many.” One of the article’s conclusions is that newspapers are failing to pursue the niche online audiences which are a source of local advertising revenue growth.

The historical focus on delivering the largest audience, combined with ad rates that are based on cost per thousand, have both served as significant cultural and behavioural barriers for the ability of newspapers (advertising staff in particular) to recognise and capitalise on the value of audience delivery across media channels. The “bigger is better” mentality is reinforced daily in the way newspapers charge for audience delivery and the manner in which advertising staff is compensated.

Newspapers have not only missed the boat when it comes to understanding the value of audience, they have failed to recognise and capitalise on the inherent characteristics, capabilities and strengths of each media (audience delivery) channel.

The inherent strength of newspaper run-of-press print advertising is its ability to reach the largest audience possible with a single message (advertisement). The inherent strength of newspaper insert print advertising is its ability to reach the largest possible audience in a specific geography (ZIP code, ad zone, and so on) and vary the message (advertisement) delivered by geography.

While an advertiser can send a copy of their ROP or FSI newspaper ad via postal mail to local households, to do so would fail to capitalise on the unique capabilities of the direct-mail audience delivery channel: one-to-one household targeting with multiple response options, such as telephone, bounce-back card, online, and so on.

Another significant barrier for capitalising on the value of audience delivery across media channel has been the inability of newspapers to change the way they sell audience delivery (advertising) across media channels.

A sales process that relies on personal selling to service a small number of easily identifiable large local advertisers cannot cost-effectively serve the needs of smaller, hard-to-identify local advertisers who are the primary source for local advertising revenue growth. Newspapers cannot afford to send an ad rep on a sales call to sell a US$50 online directory listing or a US$200 Web site banner ad. Forget about the integrated ad sales debate, since it’s not about who sells what, but rather how we sell advertising across media channels.

Asking traditional newspaper advertising leadership to develop and implement a new sales process that does not involve them (personal selling) is like asking a house painter to sell aluminum siding. It’s not going to happen.

We seem to be so focused on “what we do” that we have forgotten about “what customers want.” While pricing audience delivery (advertising) on a cost per thousand basis might be fine for ROP or FSI print advertising, it fails to capitalise on the value of audience delivered across other media channels, where who you know — and what you know about who you know — translates into exceptional value for advertisers and newspapers.