Opinion: Newspapers Should Become Digital Marketing Agencies
This guest post is written by Lloyd W. Armbrust, CEO of OwnLocal.
Newspapers need more money. Print subscriptions are in decline. Print ad revenues have fallen precipitously. Online advertising revenues are growing, but not nearly fast enough. There's an unmistakable sense of despair and hopelessness surrounding most print publications. Everywhere, newspaper publishers and ad directors ask the same question: "What do I do?"
Luckily, there's an answer.
The future of newspapers sits at the intersection between content and online services. In other words, it looks like a Newspaper plus a Digital Marketing Agency.
For years, newspapers have been asking the wrong questions focused on what they want (how do we sell more print advertising? how do we cut costs?) instead of asking the simplest question of all:
"What do our clients need and how do we provide it?"
Small businesses are spending money on online advertising for sure, but they're also investing in websites, social media management, advertising on Google and Facebook, search engine optimization services, review websites, lead generation, and more. All of this is so overwhelming for the average small business owner that they'd happily pay to have someone they trust to take care of it for them.
And that's where the newspapers come in.
Newspapers have one big advantage over everyone else. They're actually really good at selling local. They just need to sell what their customers are looking to buy (hint, it's not more banner ads).
Print sales reps have been serving their communities with a valuable advertising service for years. While it used to be simple (full page or half page next week?), small businesses these days need so much more. Newspapers have the relationships and customers who need these services. What they lack are the tools.
To succeed, a newspaper needs to be able to offer:
- Websites built with great search engine optimization (SEO) on a business's own domain name and features like unlimited pages, photos, video, text, and baked-in social media integration.
- Social Media management for a business's Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other Social Media accounts.
- Newspaper-branded business directories that use 100% white-hat SEO to help their business customers show up higher in Google search results.
- Lead generation tools like daily deals, e-mail newsletters, and local coupons.
- Online versions of print advertisements that are built to increase small business and newspaper SEO. This extends the value of print ads by adding a layer of web services like links, social media sharing, maps with directions, and more.
- SEO blog writing services to drive traffic and lead generation.
Here's the bad news. Newspapers are capturing almost none of this highly lucrative market. They don't have manpower to support these services or the technological know-how to build and maintain sophisticated software. So the trick is to partner with national companies that already do these things well. The benefit is that newspaper reps get to keep on doing what they're good at -- selling while building and maintaining local relationships.
The good news is that there are already newspapers embracing the future to learn from:
- For example, by using a vendor to build and manage their small business technology services, The York News-Times, a 4,000-circulation daily in York, Neb., has grown recurring online revenues to $120,000, representing 12 percent of the publication's revenue.
- Similarly, The Press-Enterprise, a 149,000 daily-circulation newspaper in Riverside, Calif., was able to build the largest paid online directory of any newspaper in the country in less than eight months.
- The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs Iowa (with just a week's notice) was able to rapidly add $28,000 in new, recurring online revenue by selling their small business customers websites and paid directory listings.
The technology and services are easy to understand. Much of the software can be launched within 48 hours and most newspapers will be able to see real results in as little as two weeks. Find the right partner and print sales reps can be up and running before you know it. The results are crystal clear -- $60,000 - $100,000 in new online revenue almost immediately.
So, cheer up newspaper publishers and ad directors of the world. You're about to embark on a brand new adventure. Newspapers can solve their revenue problem by becoming digital marketing agencies. And once they've made the transition, advertisers get the best of both worlds: local partners who understand their business and the best technology created and managed on a national level.
Lloyd W. Armbrust is CEO of OwnLocal, a company that helps newspapers fix their revenue problems. OwnLocal provides Web-based software to local newspapers and gives them a white-label service for selling online ads, website and social media services to local businesses. OwnLocal is financially backed by Lerer Media Ventures, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Automattic (Wordpress), Y Combinator, and Baseline Ventures.