Local small- and medium-sized business (SMB) print advertisers are still a relevant revenue share for regional publishers. But in many publishing houses, the key to turning those print revenues into sustainable digital revenues is missing. Those customers are usually too small or too inexperienced to book direct online-only campaigns, and the digital ad sales teams often ignore them.
Nevertheless, the sheer volume of customers, the theoretical revenue potential, and the shift in advertising impact scream for a solution that allows publishers to tap into that potential.
We looked at more than 20 regional publishers in Europe to see what business models succeeded in 2021 for SMB advertisers and what success factors could be found.
One thing regional publishers that scaled local digital ads in 2021 all had in common was that they believed in “direct sales” for those types of customers as they will never book programmatic because it is too technically complex for them. Also, they need to have the direct contact with their trusted print sales rep to make the step to digital.
The crucial factor was to empower the local sales reps in selling an intuitive and effective digital solution to their advertisers that allowed them to shine without the risk of being torn into discussions about “digital technicalities” they can’t win.
The combination with existing print ads allowed sales reps to sell on top of every existing ad (as an opt-out combination or even in “auto-bundles”), but this also prevented the opportunity to begin a completely new sales pitch from scratch. Instead of starting the pitch with “now, forget about print, we now have to talk about digital,” the close combination with print allowed reps to seal the digital component with “of course, we also extend the reach of your print ad to online.”
The secret sauce of this obvious “auto-bundle” of a print ad and a digital display ad in 2021 could be found in four main drivers that separated the successful models from the less successful approaches:
1. Full service but no frills for the advertiser and sales rep
Successful newspapers took the print ad as a foundation. They enriched it with information from the Web to build a great creative campaign based on clear templates but without feedback loops to individualise the banner or require advertiser approval before running the ad.
When technology was used to build templates and crawl or extract advertiser data but human designers was used to fine-tune the banners, these opportunities proved most successful.
2. Auto-pilot processes in campaign management
So as not lose the margins gained by automating banner creation, the most successful publishers then also automated the booking into the ad server. That happened either by:
- Pushing all ad tags for local campaigns into one single tag-in-tag campaign that ran on a dedicated spot and only served those local advertisers that currently needed to be live.
- Or pushing the ads into the ad server via an application programming interface (API).
Crucial for all of them was building a system that required no touch from manual campaign management teams. Campaigns always have a clear effective cost per thousand impressions (eCPM) and hence can be allocated within all existing online-only campaigns very precisely and upfront.
3. Simple but holistic and transparent pricing
The clearer the price point and the underlying to-be-expected performance could be articulated by print sales reps in one sentence, the more successful the transformation became — for both advertisers and sales reps.
The most convincing offering we saw was: “Dear Advertiser, For $100 you get 5,000 regionally targeted display ads according to your print ad including banner and landing page done for you by us, served in the three days following your print campaign.”
What made this sentence so special for us is that it breaks down a complex digital model into simple ingredients. Every single print advertiser can understand this, but it still keeps the logic of digital. This allows publishers see a clear eCPM of $20, which helps allocate the campaign in the ad server and also aligns online ad sales so everyone can see the margins of the print-to-online display ads.
4. Let an integrated landing page change the sales narrative
Local SMB advertisers need more than just the creative. They also need a landing page to capture leads and track the performance of their campaigns. Usually their own Web site is neither optimised for all devices nor prepared with reasonable calls-to-action to make any performance visible.
The most successful regional publishers combined the landing page into the offering, which allowed them to deliver a constantly high page speed and destination site quality for readers. It also let them track everything happening there. Their reporting then changed from simple click-through rate (CTR) tracking — which local advertisers can’t relate to — to a story about attention in terms of landing page visitors, their dwell time on the page, their devices, and so on.