Local newspapers offer digital-marketing expertise to mom-and-pop advertisers
Correction: David A. Knight was misidentified in a previous version of this post.
Selling ads in small media markets these days often involves playing the role of a digital marketing consultant, coaching customers on effectively using emerging social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter while strategically mining for local advertising revenue.
With mobile Internet users spending 60 percent of their time surfing social networks, according to a recent Ground Truth Inc. survey, and with Nielsen predicting that half of mobile phone users will switch to smart phones by the end of 2011, it makes sense for local publishers to steer more sales efforts toward Web 2.0 opportunities.
But a small- to medium-sized business (SMB) often can't just start tweeting or updating its Facebook status to reach potential customers; it has to learn to communicate effectively on these platforms, using the right tone and keywords to sell its product or service.
That’s where publishers come in. The local shoe salesman “doesn’t want to be an SEO expert; he just wants to sell shoes,” says David A. Knight, executive director of digital sales for the New York Times Company Regional Media Group, which has 14 media properties across the country.
The Regional Media Group’s approach to ad sales is akin to consulting like a marketing agency. This type of relationship building can lead to more ad sales, Knight says, which can reap exponential benefits.
"Once they listen, you can sell them on other things and you can help solve their marketing problems," Knight says. Although he can't share dollar figures, he says the coaching process has helped the company surpass its first quarter goal of acquiring SMB customers by 56 percent.
So how does a local newspaper set about becoming the go-to source of information for Internet marketing, driving advertising dollars their way? Here are three tips.
1. Teach the tools
Many advertisers already know what Facebook and Twitter are, so the Times Company’s various regional papers hold seminars to teach SMBs how to create targeted marketing programs for these sites.
Dawn Willis, advertising director at The Ledger, a Times Company daily newspaper in Florida that received 7.9 million page views on its Web site last month, generated new business from auctioneers and healthcare companies after the paper held in-house seminars on social media.
"We had to dive in and become the expert for them," says Willis, who adds that the paper’s own market visibility in the digital sphere has been key to convincing advertisers on the value of working with The Ledger.
“We say, ‘You can see us and it’s helping us.’ We hold that out there as an example.”
2. Mine new revenue streams
Media companies should ask advertisers if they’re creating online coupons and promotions to lure customers to the business. Knight says this type of revenue mining – targeting customers for an annual sale, for instance – is about understanding needs. And it pays off.
If 35 of a company's 100 Facebook fans redeem a coupon posted on its fan page, that's a much better ROI than going the traditional route with paper coupons, says Larry Shaw, director of client research for Borrell Associates, a Virginia-based media consultancy.
Posting coupons on a Facebook fan page is “very similar to how advertisers track coupons using bar codes,” he adds.
Shaw, who likens digital marketing to the direct mailings of yesteryear, says, “Where the value comes is when you put that link to Facebook directly onto the ad.”
“The idea is really to spend the least amount of money to get a response,” he says. “You’re trying to get people who are most interested in your product or services.”
3. Become their personal coach
Guiding small businesses through the social media process as they stumble along but also experience successes is key to maintaining the advertiser-publisher relationship.
This new approach requires a more personal touch in which publishers work with advertisers to develop custom campaigns. Gone are the days of sales reps blanketing the business community with the same advertising package.
“You’re not selling, selling, selling all the time,” says Knight. “It’s understanding their business, understanding their needs.”
This type of focus will enable sales teams to target a broader group of businesses, such as contractors or doctors’ offices, as potential advertisers.
“As we gain those clients, we have more customers than we ever had and a wider range of customers,” says Willis.
Knight says more media companies are moving in this direction.
“Everybody sees that you have to be more consultative,” he says. “It’s changed a lot over the last 10 years. I think it’s more a partnership than anything else.”