In many countries, local newspapers have been in sharp decline. Too often, a drop in local relevance or interest — or the global behemoths like Google and Facebook — are blamed.
But looking at the types of advertisers local newspapers managed to gather with their digital presences versus their print ones shows a much deeper and different challenge local publishers haven’t solved yet.
Digital is fully reliant on large accounts (direct and indirect sales). In print, small accounts (direct sales) always made up a very relevant part of the revenue mix. But in digital, they are neglected.
Since the Internet was invented, there was this promise of free content (a mistake already made and covered at length throughout the industry) but also global accessibility from everywhere through the power of algorithms and machines.
Things went “glocal.” Large campaigns were booked by global brands that would automatically turn up on local newspapers without the sales teams having to do anything. This was the early promise of what we now know as programmatic.
But looking at the promise of programmatic and indirect sales almost 20 years into the game, we see that Google with its Google Display Network got incredibly rich from it. It took at least a 30% cut and delivered ads all across the Internet at a cost per thousand US$1 to US$5 on every high-, medium-, and low-quality Web site there is that could add a simple Google ad tag.
In comparison, print always has been about direct sales. This is true not only with key regional accounts and national advertisers, but mainly the mass of local advertisers. Even in the golden years of print in the 1970s and 1980s without this base, most newspapers would have done worse business only relying on indirect sales, agencies, and large global accounts.
So, why now?
We rely on Google to fill up our digital ad inventory, large agencies to book our most prominent positions, and global brands to post their national campaigns.
But for the hundreds of local advertisers that are still very loyal to print, we have not yet found a solution to make them switch to digital. With the many publishers I am speaking to, I always see the percentage of local advertisers who spend less than $1,000 in print that also do digital at less than 10%-20%. This is despite all internal efforts, external agencies, digital sales teams, and the digital zeitgeist.
Why are we leaving that money on the table? In other words, why are those sales reps and local advertisers not understanding?
Having seen tens of local advertising turn-arounds lately, my answer is that only scaling down the offer in terms of ad impressions — but with the same complexity in terms of formats, targeting options, and buzzwords — doesn’t do the magic
Local advertisers (like local crafts people) have a hard day at work and return back home at 8:00 p.m. Now they have to navigate self-booking spaces like Facebook, think about a good idea for a banner design, improve a landing page, and understand a reporting of X% click-through rate and the ROI that means.
This is too complex! They just don’t do it and don’t have the time.
One idea is to offer them a full-service solution where you create a banner without any briefing from the advertisers based on print ads, home page, social media, and the corresponding landing page. By the way, Facebook and Google cannot, never want, and never would want to do this.
Make sure to serve their ads only locally and on prominent spots in a credible environment (such as your local news site). Report on attention and interactions on the landing page instead of click rates. This creates a more comprehensive story for the local advertiser.
Offering the same business model, the same complex options, the same digital-only approach, and the same reporting like you do for key accounts and national big spenders is a dead end.
The art is to automate this new approach without becoming uniform or boring. You want to introduce the new model without additional overhead for advertisers, sales reps, and backoffice.
Local advertisers are still eager and willing to spend money, but they need a solution that speaks to their specific desires and needs.