Mittmedia is applying a full-scope advertising strategy, combining humans and tech to renew business and successfully taking up the fight with Facebook and Google. The result: Sweden’s best ad revenue growth parallel to a successful paid content business with premium content.

Mittmedia is Sweden’s leading local media company, with a mission to uphold local democracy. As a legacy newspaper company with 28 local daily newspapers and 19 digital news channels, Mittmedia has been heavily transforming into digital over the last seven years.

Thomas Sundgren, head of platforms and strategic partnerships at Mittmedia, presented an exclusive Webinar to INMA members on the three pillars of Mittmedia’s strategy.

Sundgren opened the topic by focusing on the duopoly of Facebook and Google eating the market with volume, as well as new and effective target audience logic. The top 10 companies today command 74% of the market — and almost all are owned by Facebook and Google.

“The duopoly is placing brutal pressure on media companies all over the world,” Sundgren said. “First, by sheer mass of course. But then, at its core, the ability to give advertisers access to a highly effective target audience.”

Yet Sundgren said he doesn’t think media companies have taken the steps necessary to compete with this duopoly: “We’ve been operating with an outdated business model.”

With the duopoly of Facebook and Google eating market share, Mittmedia knew it had to transform.
With the duopoly of Facebook and Google eating market share, Mittmedia knew it had to transform.

The need for transformation

When Mittmedia realised this of itself as a company back in 2016, the team took stock of its weaknesses:

  • Ineffective, anonymous banner business model.
  • Couldn’t offer all of the marketing channels demanded by customers.
  • Sales force stuck in outdated competence and mindset.
  • No longer attractive to customers — a lost partnership for marketing.
  • Accelerating drop-off of customers.
  • Old and ineffective chains of production.

“Customers were leaving us because we couldn’t offer them a full model array of digital channels,” Sundgren said. “We were simply unable to adapt on a full-scale level.”

They also found the recently launched digital subscription model needed to be front and centre — and that it alone wasn’t enough.

From 2016 to 2017, Mittmedia worked on this problem, addressing the weaknesses that they had uncovered.

Results

After 2017, the results from Mittmedia’s efforts to transform itself and compete in the digital advertising space showed a payoff.

  • Total local digital sales revenue was up 27% in the first quarter of 2018, while display sales were up 34%.
  • Native advertising was up 272%, social up 230%, and research media up 365%.
  • By August 2018, total local digital sales were up by 55%.
  • The company has seen accelerating growth month-to-month, with average CPM levels up from 110 to over 200.

“We have sort of doubled the average ad prices, CPM levels,” Sundgren said, adding that last week, in September 2018, they had already reached the revenue levels for the whole year of 2017.

There are three key factors that went into this successful strategy, and Sundgren took the audience into a deeper look at each one.

Reacher sales system for digital marketing

“By using Reacher on a full-scale level, as we do today, Mittmedia has been able to both step into a new business logic and regain partnership with customers in a modern chain of production.”

The Web-based tool helps Mittmedia’s sales force to develop marketing campaigns with their advertisers, and they can work on building the campaign together in the platform. “That creates a strong relationship between the customer and Mittmedia,” Sundren said.

Benefits of Reacher include the fact that it offers all marketing channels in one tool, helping Mittmedia reach its goal of regaining the customers’ trust and regain its role as marketing partner.

Reacher creates a new and effective business logic, focusing on who the ad is shown to in targeted marketing — the way Google and Facebook have already been doing it for quite a while. It offers effective interest target audiences in a variety of niches including automotive, food and drink, health and fitness, travel, sport, and so on.

They also target geographically. “In these two ways, interest and geography, we can offer customers a new and efficient advertising logic,” Sundgren said.

But it’s not enough to simply launch this new advertising model; it has to be scaled, to every sales rep and every campaign.

The second benefit of Reacher is the high-class interface which drives scaling of volume. This has helped the sales staff use the interface quickly and easily, creating a stress-free work environment.

“If scaling is the first step, then of course pushing up prices on every campaign being sold is the second one. Because if we can combine scaling and volume of campaigns and higher prices, that would create revenues for us.”

Mittmedia eliminated discounts on ad campaigns, in a move that built better relationships and higher revenue.
Mittmedia eliminated discounts on ad campaigns, in a move that built better relationships and higher revenue.

The old model of offering deeply discounted ad campaigns simply created a self-inflicted problem. In this new model, discounts are eliminated. Instead, they focus on marketing within the client’s budget.

“Reacher isn’t just a tool for the sales staff and customers,” Sundgren said. “It’s also works with the other roles and functions that make up a modern day production chain.” The ad designer and producer works inside the Reacher tool as well, as does the campaign manager. The full-circle ends with the advertising customer, who gets performance stats in the Reacher visualisation tableau.

Thomas Sundgren explains the training and management tool used by Mittmedia.
Thomas Sundgren explains the training and management tool used by Mittmedia.

Mittmedia e-learning platform for a new competence

“It doesn’t make any difference how excellent of tools we build and launch. We need to transform the workforce to use the tools in the right way. This is why in conjunction with building and launching the Reacher platform, we’ve also built the e-learning platform for it,” Sundgren said.

The platform is a Web-based tool that is filled with 100% original learning content that is created in-house, tailor-made for Mittmedia’s training needs.

The changing world and customer has driven the need for new behaviour and work processes. The first step was to redefine what digital competence really is.

Mittmedia's new e-learning platform redefines digital competence and adds learning with continued behavioural change.
Mittmedia's new e-learning platform redefines digital competence and adds learning with continued behavioural change.

“What we need to do is move the staff down this path, where they convert superficial information learned in the first step of the process into actual changed, real-life behaviour in the last step,” Sundgren said. The training is reinforced with continuous training in actual situation, and active, continuous reinforcement.

Team members who complete the entire process become a Certified Mittmedia Sales Manager, and this ensures all staff receive the same strategic training in digital media. This recertification happens every two years, and it’s also a good way to introduce new co-workers.

Holistic header bidding for programmatic growth

“The main motive behind the Mittmedia header bidding solution was a need for us to drive up prices on our ad inventory as a whole, and therefore drive up revenues for it.”

The programmatic trading of ads works like an auction. To push prices up, ad servings must be made available for the highest available bidder. “With the help of header bidding, we’re doing just that: getting as many potential ad bidders as possible in the room, exposing our ads as much as possible.

“The revenue growth for us in header bidding has been outstanding. We’ve more than doubled the total revenue in just a year,” Sundgren said.

Q&A:

INMA: What is local media’s USP, versus Facebook and Google?

Sundgren: First of all, our firm foot among local readers and customers. We have a sales force of 200 people going out to meet real people every day. That’s not something Facebook and Google have. We also have over 600 journalists going out each day and meeting people and writing stories about them.

The second thing is that we are building audiences from data in our paid content business. We build a relationship with our local subscribers from our paid content business. We can use this to create an even stronger bond with our advertising customers. It’s based on loyalty and relationship, and that is something that Google and Facebook aren’t able to do.

INMA: Does inventory in Reacher consist only of the publisher’s own publication or is it connected to other ad exchanges?

Sundgren: Mainly on our own sites and apps, but then we have an external site list where the ads are distributed in case we can’t serve the ads ourself. We’re constantly changing external sites and arenas. All of the campaigns sold in Reacher are also put up for auction.

INMA: What’s the size of your sales force and did everyone acquire the new competencies needed?

Sundgren: When we prepared and built our e-learning platform, we made it go through the sales force of about 180 to 200 people, consisting of both forward-looking young people and people who have been here 20 or 30 years. A lot of people were not so digital. With the e-learning platform and the simplicity of Reacher, we’ve been able to onboard even the most print-oriented staff.

It is often the older and print-oriented sales rep that is often doing this in the easiest way. They’re talented people, they have relationships with a lot of customers. We’re not giving up on people who haven’t been able to sell digital before; we’ve seen people cross that border.

INMA: Would you say header bidding is going to be the future of digital marketing?

Sundgren: It’s important for us not to lean in on one solution only; header bidding is just one piece of the puzzle for us. It will be a major part of the puzzle for us, but not the only one.

INMA: How is search sold via Reacher?

Sundgren: Both social and search is Google, Facebook, or Instagram, sold by our teams. We’ve started to look at what can happen when we offer search and social. The crucial thing for us is to be able to sit with the customer and offer all the channels. They are often very grateful because they only need to see our sales rep to get all the channels, including Facebook and Google.