local media insider

The best versus the rest: Key strategies of leading local media companies in digital marketshare

Will your company make it through the digital revolution?

Alisa Cromer

Does your company settle for incremental digital growth rather than transformational change?  How do you know if your company is achieving its objective, or running in place? 

According to Borrell Associates, legacy media companies typically command 1 to 2% of the local online advertising in their markets; except for a few companies who approach 10 to as much as 28%.

Five such companies with local operations that command 4  to 10 times the average marketshare of other local media are  Gray Media, Morris Publishing Group, Cox,  McClatchy and Deseret Media. They  outlined key strategies at the the 2012 Local Online Advertising Conference.

We've summarized ten of  key strategies below; while not all companies have all of these strategies, this summary gives a good snapshot of what "the best" focus on that is working now to increase digital market share. 
Presenters included:
*Gray Television; Presenter, Mike Braun, VP of Digital Sales and strategy. Note: With 36 television station in 30 markets, and 39 digital secondary channels, Gray is a leader in market share penetration in several of their markets. 

*McClatchy; Key executive: Chris Hendricks. McClatchy owns 10% market share of digital advertising in 67% of  the DMA's that it runs. That is, 13 of 26 McClatchy newspapers have higher than 10% marketshare, and combining papers in the same DMA brings that number  to 14 of 21 markets

*Morris Communications; Key executive, Mark Lane.  Across five markets, Morris maintains an outstanding averager of 25% of market share of digital dollars. 

*Cox Media: Key Executive, Jeff Ulrich, Senior director digital sales strategy and training. In 2010, Cox merged its  newspapers, television, radio digital efforts and focused on product, support and training. The end result is market share growth.

*Deseret Media; Key Executive, Gilbert Clark, CEO and Todd Handy, VP of Sales. Consistently innovative, Deseret Media is currently forming a national "Voice for Values" brand to expand its footprint, and owns 17% of the total digital dollars in its marketplace.  

So what is it that these companies do differently? 

1. Top execs commit to digital, drive market share goals and measure against targets

It should go without saying,  that acquiring digital market share doesn't happen by accident. Each of these teams has full commitment at the top to go all out building digital models.

One of McClatchy's best practices "since 1994" has been setting a goal of digital primacy for revenues and audience with double digit annual targets.  

"We have consistently sent this message downstream. We know (the market) is going digital and accept it; everybody across the company understands this...The senior team, spends a  disproportionate ammount of time focusing on digital. If you  came into our corporate suite, you would think this is not a print company." McClatchey is now achieving these goals. 

A free source to find out digital ad revenues in your market is here.  Also use this report on new digital metrics top companies are tracking, including how Morris Publishing Group - with 25% of the digital revenues in its markets - measures incremental increase in CPM and sell-through monthly. The value of measuring month-to-month growth is the ability to break out of incremental change by measuring in months, not years.

 "You can see if it was down from prior month. It's almost like a start-up company. Every month we want to do a little better, and the  number one indicator is how we are doing versus prior month."

2.  A separate digital sales staff reports through separate channel

Like many top selling broadcast markets, Gray has shifted the digital sales direct reporting chain of command from the sales manager to the general manager.  This is a common thread in many top performing broadcast sites interviewed by LocalMediaInsider over the years. More local media are creating additional digital-only sellers  - in addition to multi-media reps with digital specialist assisting - that allow new markets to be tapped, increasing market share.

A separate reporting change as well as a few independent digital-sellers keeps moving the needle because it allows singular focus on new markets.  

3.  Social media adoption

As has been often noticed on this site, it is no longer enough for a company to have a social media specialist and a fan page.

For example, Gray television as been extremely active in incorporating social media throughout the company, especially in the newsroom. Textback contests are enterable via Twitter; all stations have Facebook pages and employees are encouraged to have their own personalized station pages. Personalities sign an agreement to turn these pages over the the new personality if they leave the station.

(Along these lines, a number of news sites vouch that Chartbeat real time analytics with all editorial access has made a huge difference in motivating reporters to Tweet and social engage fans with their stories. Automatically Tweeting headline news, and requiring a more social "retweet" by the reporter on each story is another new convention. )

4. Focus on Mobile

According to Borrell mobile will account for 88% of all local online ad dollars by 2016, so leaders are getting in early are destined  to pick up marketshare. Local media companies who do not focus on mobile, on the other hand, will fall further behind in relative terms. Already, mobile accounts for significant digital audience growth for some  broadcast sites.

Gray has used its mobile audience to level the playing field with print companies who typically have had larger online audiences.  Today Mobile is currently 71% of Gray's total digital traffic, and racked up as many page views in Q1 of 2012 as all of 2011.  All WAP and app development is inhouse. Sales efforts  focus on news, weather, sports and home page sold on a CPM model. There is a popular app for coupons and deals. Behind in mobile? Use these metrics to see the mobile revenue potential in your market.

5. Multiple products and services  that offer solutions to merchants

A  core McClatchy strategy,  "Deliver solutions to advertisers,"  is a commitment to reverses the typical sales process from pitching products to meeting advertiser needs. This requires a complex array of products, with packaging and training. Media companies that outperform, however, deliver a variety of solutions - enough to create a true needs analysis and have tools to measure results, rather than pushing products. Again, this requires real commitment at the top, becuase some of the products compete with the core product. 

McClatchy partnerships include cars.com products, Pandora, Careerbuilder and deals."You have to give people solutions, we are selling other people's products all day long... We don’t care what it is as long as we can do it profitable."  

Some partnerships are performing well without requiring outside sales - Adperfect self-service classifieds ad platform generated  $9 million coming in  all by itself.  Of the $193 million in digital revenues across McClatchey, display advertising accounts for only 29%.

Key digital product categories mentioned by these five top companies include: 

*Deals - Daily deals are driving significant revenue streams. Increasingly these are being combined with deal stores and coupons. For deals resources do to reports on deals storesthe big weekly deal with a deal store, and how to turn around your deal program. 

* Digital services, such as search, reputation management and texting. Similarily Morris media has combined key partnerships with Vendasta, trumeasure and Insequent into it  SoLoMo  packages

*Targeted AdNetworks. In addition to Yahoo and CentroLift, Cox has also created a branded private ad network as CODAN, Cox Online Dispaly Ad Network,  to sell targeted advertising. 

*Promotions such as social media contests and giveaways are also an increasingly important product. At Cox, contests like  Tampa's Crappiest Couch, and the Real Richmond Challenge, sponsored by  Wendy's, are producing siginificant revenues. See also this case study on growing social media contests.   

6. Focus on high ROI ads 

A number of initiatives have increase the ROI for customers buying banner ad campaigns at Morris in an intentional way. This is clearly what merchants want - new customers, not just clicks.  Here are a few ROI focused strategies:

*As mentionned above, reaching  targetted audiences through partnerships. Yahoo and CentroLift and Cox's new ad network CODAN allows better solutions for advertisers - more targetted ads also get much higher CTR's. 

*Selling rich media ads, such as sliders has created  1.5% click-throughs versus the typical .1.  ImpactEngine.com is a low-cost (about $8 of CPM)  partner for turnkey creation of sliders and billboards. A typical production person can create a corner peel or slider in about 20 minutes using the platform, and these ads command much higher CPM's. 

*Morris invested in an offshore company, NIIT Ad Operations team,  to A/B test creative, day parts and placement of its banner ads. A few people are dedicated to testing pays off in long-term retention. "Recently we had an ad that didn't  work well, and we were able to increase performance from . o4 to .7 by tweaking this campaign."

The NIIT operations team also provides finanical services and ad production.

*Cox provides advertisers with an Impact Engine created Ad Gallery that shows performance of each creative, and is launching a series of IAB Rising Star ads that have significant improvements in CTR.  For a list of Rising Stars with source code go to IAB.com. 

7. Massive, on-going digital training 

With so many different services and market segments, all successful companies are addictively driving training and retraining, with their own "universities."  If your company is too small for its own university, some resources are listed below. 

McClatchy University's online training courses allow personnel to take a course over and over until they are certified. Not just the reps are required to take classes, executives have to, too. "I have been through the training. We model the things that we want."  

Cox also stepped up its training way beyond a few specialists and sales meeting sessions. Training. In 2011, Cox hired both the Center for Sales Strategy to train its overall sales staff and Laredo Group to train sellers of key accounts. Today the ongoing training includes several key initiatives such as an animated  training video called, March Mobile Mondays,  which uses a wild west theme and animated character to explains the mobile landscape to sellers and managers.  

Twice a year in 2012, the company also holds in person peer reveiws at Cox headquaraters in Atlanta, with sharing of ideas and best practices. "This connected people, many of whom had not met face to face.

Local Media Association also offers digital certification progams, and many companies use the basic AdWords test (Google Google's Learning Center to find this online training. A trainer can use the program (we have done this!) to conduct a classroom-style session, then ask reps to pass the test at their desks. You don't need to sell AdWords for this training to be valuable, though it is extremely helpful in getting sales reps - and managers - to have a deep understanding of search versus display in general (we've recommended this as a pre-built free training program for anyone selling directories).

8. 25% of top level MBO's go to digital performance

This is really just an extension of #1, commitment at the top. At McClatchy top exec bonus plans reflect and drive the company's digital priorities. While most media companies have had to shift comp plans for sales reps to focus sales efforts on digital, usually by requiring hitting a digital goal to achieve the overall and most substantial bonus, McClatchey took its compensation changes all the way to the top of the company. 

 25% of the MBO for presidents and publishers is based on digital goals for revenue and audience. It's the second largest part of the MBO after cash flow. "What we found over time,  is that  5% didn’t do it.  10% didn't do it.  25% did it. No one want to lose 25 % of bonus. And this kind behavior trickles down deeper into the company."

9. Telesales of advertising packages  to "long tail" marketplaces

The grand-daddy of digital market penetration is Deseret Media with 65% of the media share in Salt Lake City and a stellar 17% of total digital market share.

One initiative is telesales of advertising agains the "long tail" of its search oriented marketplace - the theory being that these ad slots at the end of the buying cycle are more valuable to merchants, and that telesales controls costs. This is a key strategy that not all speakers were implementing but an increasing number of companies are looking at this option. The full case study (soon to be replicated by other major companies)  is here, also click on these links for the Ultimate Sales to Goal Telesales spreadsheet, plus  how to recurit part-time telesales peoples  and compensating telesales.  A big shout-out to Todd Handy, Director New Media Sales,  for sharing these key strategies with our members.

While Deseret has a huge advantage of a free marketplace that beats Craigslist, a long tail strategy means new markets that are currently being acquired by other marketplace providers, such as directory companies, who currently own the largest digital market share as a percentage. 
10. Focus on e-commerce opportunities
Deseret  is also one of the first media companies to take full advantage of the large growth of e-commerce compared to banner ad sales. This is another direction where Deseret is out ahead of other leading companies. MediaOne, the joint venture that includes Deseret Media has already launched a real estate site that replaces the standard real estate classifieds.  And Deseret Digital plans  a deal store with "hundreds of deals" and is launching a travel agency to sell hotel rooms in its destination market of Salt Lake City. You don't need to be Deseret and have those resources to take advantage of this significant new revenue stream, for step by step "how to's" go to these links: travelreal estate sales and deal stores.  Other companies are expanding in the employment services arena - and there are many opportunities to explore in this direction. 
We've written about the best versus the rest before and will continue to do so. Many thanks to these leading executives for their 2012 presentations at the Local Online Advertising Conference and for Borrell Associates the conference producer for creating the opportunity to study their successes.

Alisa Cromer

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.


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