These top recommendations for 2012 were generated both for - and during - seminars at American Press Institute's December 2012 revenue conference for small media. They include several of the key "to do" from local media executives in attendance. Referred vendors are included.
1. Maximize revenues generated passively by traffic
Remnant space yields a small amount of revenue from ad networks. In the API group, the highest dollars reported for remnant space came from Centro’s Brand Exchange Spectrum. A couple executives attested to a $2.16 CPM – stellar for an ad network infilling remnant space. Sites that run with fewer than five ad units should consider revenues from adding a unit at the bottom of their sites. Contact for onboarding local media partners is Lara.Deppisch@centro.net.
Other revenue generators with "good grades" from participating newspapers are Taboola, a related video widget with a PPC section and Cinesport (both mentioned below). Outbrain is an option for high traffic sites (several million page views) and networks; it supplies related content with a paid component.
Another popular "to do" for 2012 is monetizing photo galleries. Typically this is only a few hundred a month, however, if you have a major sports passion in your market and can remarket sports photos on mugs, T-shirts etc. The Post-Gazette sells in the six figures for its team. Contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org for MyNewsPhotos or Julie@secondstreetMedia for MyCapture.
2. Deploy a Civic Science poll
We’ve advised local media companies to utilize this free poll service (described here) in the past. Not only does it allow media companies to collect extensive audience data free of charge – it pays for any aggregated data it resells to national brands in the form of questions, such as “do you prefer Pepsi or Coke.”
All the data is correlated, so that people who drink Pepsi and Coke, may also prefer cats over dogs. The local media has access to all the data on its market to use on sales calls (names of respondees is not collected), or sell questions to merchants needing data. The Post-Gazette has used this data for pre-testing its own editorial projects, selling question-based data directly to political campaigns, and saving a large automotive online buy via proving the online audience favored their brand.
One recent improvement is the ease of placing the code via a somewhat simple DIY code cut-and-paste. As we mentioned, data is co-owned so the newspaper gets access to all the marketing information, far more in depth than many of the more expensive services in use today, including the survey-based Verified Audit among others. Contact is email@example.com.
3. Require registration for free sites
This is so simple, and such a no brainer that it is amazing that more local sites don't do it. Pop-up data collectors are easy to deploy and can combine with a series of enter-to-wins that further diagnose audiences.
If your company has a deal program, this is a quick and dirty way to increase emails and thus deal revenues (though not the only reason to do it). Remarketing to infrequent buyers is another easy ways to improve deal revenue.
Data-mining is still a new field, however, it is clear that the larger the total audience – that is including email, mobile, Facebook and so on – the greater the ability of the media to drive market share for a variety of new products and services, not just deals.
Paid sites have taken the lead in creating forms to register audiences via the metered-model, but there is no reason why free sites should not require email registration via pop-up window after , say one to five stories. AWeber has a pop-up built-in and may be worth it, even if the rest of company e-blasts use a different vendor A simple registration is all that is needed, or add options to opt in to deals or text alerts.
This is up for experimentation, however, our recommendation is overlay required registration on all local media sites to build your Total Digital Audience (TDA).
4. Create a revenue metrics for each business model starting with the site’s potential banner ad revenues
We’re sticklers for creating and recreating metrics that drive new revenue streams. What is measured and reported get's the attention from managers. See our metrics for deals, as updated and improved by one of our members, Chris McDonald. One excellent worksheet for banner ad pricing created by from Robert Granfeldt of Southern Community Newspapers, Inc (SCNI) was a top "to do" for many of the local media companies in the group; seeing the banner ad revenue "left on the table" is a motivator.
5. Develop the CMS system to maximize revenues
Small companies on expensive CMS systems are looking for new options. But open source is not really free – it requires expensive and often hard to manage programmers - or project managers dealing with offsite programmers. A nightmare in too many cases unless you commit to a staff of programmers - that is one solid executive loyal to the company and a back-up in training. There are two decent alternatives. One is is Creative Circle Media’s Adqic CMS, which is very low price and less templated - a remarkable amount of good custom design is included. The contact is Bill@creativecirclemedia.com.
A new alternative is a completely “free” pre-configured open-sourced Joomla-based CMS called BENN, provided by the Post-Gazette Special Projects division as part of a new initiative. Many of these smaller revenue streams are already incorporated - saving time on setting up numerous relationships. BENN takes a 50% rev share on the national ad network buys it sells into three units on the site, and any relationships it handles. All the ad units and monetization partners are baked in, making this a truly viable alternative for some small media sites. Their pitch is that the system is "not only free, but we pay you," which is partly true. BENN executives are estimating publishers will keep $.77 to $1 cpm for the 50% share of revenues from three ad units reserved for adnetworks buys – or 50% any of the partnerships that BENN already incorporates. The Post-Gazette's ad network is auction-based, so yields higher CPMs than are available locally in most cases. Included are a number of compelling features: such as a mobile site, tablet version, and recommended vendors such as Taboola and Cinesport built-in. A video player is not provided. The first group of small papers will launch on the platform in February, 2012. Contact is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Video is high demand by ad networks and yields jaw-dropping CPM’s of 40 to $50 – given that the video has to be played to be paid and probably these yields will fall a little as inventory increases. Gannnet has fully entered the video space building a production and editing studio for all its properties. However, there are some easy ways to start earning money from video right away.
Start by implementing Cinesport. This was the recommendation as the quickest short term no-pain, entry point. Cinesport provides customized local sports content in its own video player, then serves with national ads and shares the revenues, usually around $4 to $5. The media company can sell local spots as well. Because the player “autoplays” when the page is opened (without the sound, fortunately), every page view is paid. A few sites place Cinesport widget on all pages to take advantage of the big CPM gains. Contact is email@example.com.
The vendor preferred by the group for a standard video player is Brightcove.
7. Incorporate Taboola for related video content
Taboola is a simple related-video widget (similar to related story widgets) that incorporates paid-links. Like Outbrain (which yielded $20,000 a month in additional revenues for last year for one group of newspapers) companies such as Gannett have seen an 8% lift in revenues from its related video widgets and some very large sites (say, at 40 million page views a month) report revenues more than $10,000 a month.
8. Have a simple landing page solution
If your sales representatives are doing a good job selling banner ads, your company needs to be able to create a matching landing page on the fly. Many merchants don't have a content management system, so controling the sale means being able to link to a page that matches the offer, whatever it is, and provides as much conversion information as is needed, such as call tracking or email. Companies recommended by LMI members include VSplash, VFLyer and Unbounced.com. It’s also possible to train sales reps and merchants to use a redeemable coupon page. One option is using the coupon page of a directory or program such as Forkfly that also auto-coverts to mobile and has a customer loyalty program.
Unbounced is a higher-end solution with email data-collection. Recently the company was selected by 1100 Broadway, the inhouse agency for the Nashville Tennessean.com. Another brand new, templated option is Ads-Up platform that includes templated banner campaign creation and a variety of landing pages with email capture and call tracking. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Sell local audiences on national sites
Centrolift is our top recommendation (described here) if this partnership is available in your market, to place larger media buys for specially targeted audiences (Note: This is not an ad network, and separate from the ad network they also run). CentroLift basically serves as a white-label back-end media buying service as if the local media company was itself an ad agency. So the sales representative can accommodate requests to purchase large, highly targeted local audiences beyond what it could offer on its own, including audio sites such as Pandora, pre-rolls reaching local audiences on ESPN, Fox.com and other video sites in the network.
CentroLift gives the base price for the external buy, and the local media company provides a mark-up based on what the market will bear, up to 100% if the CPM is very low, say $4 to $5, or simply a standard agency 15%. They typically partner with newspaper companies - and are picky - but have also selected a few non-newspaper companies with particularily aggressive sales forces.
We've seen reports from a smallish market (1 million page views) of low six figure revenues in the first six months of selling, with sales expected to reach close to $1 million in 2012. The program at Southern Community Newspaper even created its own branded “Bolt.” If CentroLIft is not available in your market, Yahoo Behavioral targeting is similar and Collective.com was recently recommended to us by a member.
10. Sell services such as a “digital catch-up package”
We borrowed that phrase from the Post-Gazette to describe a package of services using simple tools to help merchants get up to speed with their digital marketing.
Our top recommendation is combining Localeze with Vendasta, plus a mobile site, and perhaps some kind of customer loyalty program. Google now offers a free mobile site, that integrates with Google Analytics, but is rather basic.
Vendasta does “checking and updating” of directories and includes reputation management, while Localeze focuses on broad distribution of listings with additional information such as hours of operation.
Don't forget social media - even templated Facebook pages with a calendar of postings are incredibly popular. SecondStreet media sells Facebook contest platforms and NorthFace provides some simple templates to get merchants started.
And then merchants need a mobile page template and customer loyalty program. Forkfly and InSequent are referred suppliers.
Can merchants do this on their own? Of course! But many prefer the old way, in which their marketing was handled by an outside media rep. See an example of how services are packaged here. The Blinder Group is an excellent way of launching new programs - they were used to launch SOLOMO and have a stellar track record and numerous recommendations. Contact mike@Blindergroup.com.
11. Track all conversions for merchant campaigns on one report
We’re planning to send out a worksheet for this, however universal dashboards such as ClickFuel already integrate some data automatically. Until then, create a manual report, and generate for all accounts that use multimedia. Trumeasure is our recommendation for low cost ($8 a month per campaign) simple call-tracking and post-click activity report. QR codes such as QRStuff comes with analytics which many of the code providers do not.
12. Consider the home services space
The deal space is lucrative but picked over. But services don't do well in the deal space, and are largely dominated by one paid site, Angie's List. ServiceAlley, one of our top choices for media partners in 2011 is going strong, with 13% of the service market in the Washington D.C. area and 2000 or so members signed up to use them. They also just signed up the Chicago Tribune. The key competitive advantage is that Angie's list is paid membership-based, while ServiceAlley is free. It is worth a second look.
13. Start an inhouse agency
Not just an agency sales style, but a real inhouse ad agency is a great way to grow accounts. We have a number of these case studies in the coming weeks, however, keep in mind some basics to the separate agency:
1. Utilize new vendors (such as those included in services above) by redeploying existing staff to the fullfilment side.
2. Hire in agency DNA in sales and management via background in selling digital marketing, web sites, etc.
3. The GM of the new agency has to have enough backbone to say "no share resources" - that usually means reporting to the c-level.
4. The one exception may be utilizing the under-utilized creative staffs in production. Elevate, promote and give them raises and time to do agency quality work.
14. Consider paid press releases
This is a remarkably easy opportunity to both monetize a valuable asset and make work easier for the editorial department. Merchants post their releases digitally for free, but can pay $99 to have them published in the press release area of your site - ie the PRLink platform. The yield is somewhere around 1% of press releases that are input digitally. It is fully automated, though depending on the market may require manual screening of press releases to check for slander or other issues before publication.
TampaBay.com, owned by the recently renamed, Tampa Bay Tribune is the pilot project and markets the platform in the navigation bar of site and as an SEO solution for businesses. Creative Circle Media, which produces PRLink and partners with media in the planning stages of deploying an outside rep to sell packages of Press Releases to larger companies. Contact is Bill@creativecirclemedia.com.
Hope there are a few good ideas in here for you. These can be difficult things to do with people and organizations. However, one publisher at the seminar noted the sense of urgency in companies whose revenues are more developed. Focus like a lazor and execute with urgency.
Happy, healthy and prosperous 2012. And many thanks again to Mary Peskin and the staff of the American Press Institute, for an inspiring seminar during a period of organizational change.
The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and MediaExecsTech, developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine, to showcases perspectives from around the world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.