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December 07 2011


The rise of local media sales partnerships and 19 other recent hyper-local developments you may have missed

In this guest post Ofcom’s Damian Radcliffe cross-publishes his latest presentation on developments in hyperlocal publishing for September-October, and highlights how partnerships are increasingly important for hyper-local, regional and national media in terms of “making it pay”.

When producing my latest bi-monthly update on hyper-local media, I was struck by the fact that media sales partnerships suddenly seem to be all the rage.

In a challenging economic climate, a number of media providers – both big and small – have recently come together to announce initiatives aimed at maximising economies of scale and potentially reducing overheads.

At a hyperlocal level, the launch on 1st November of the Chicago Independent Advertising Network (CIAN), saw 15 Chicago community news sites coming together to offer a single point of contact for advertisers. These sites “collectively serve more than 1 million page views each month.”

This initiative follows in the footsteps of other small scale advertising alliances including the Seattle Indie Ad Network and Boston Blogs.

These moves – bringing together a range of small scale location based websites – can help address concerns that hyper-local sites are not big enough (on their own) to unlock funding from large advertisers.

CIAN also aims to address a further hyper-local concern: that of sales skills. Rather than having a hyperlocal practitioner add media sales to an ever expanding list of duties, funding from the Chicago Community Trust and the Knight Community Information Challenge allows for a full-time salesperson.

Big Media is also getting in on this act.

In early November Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL agreed to sell each other’s unsold display ads. The move is a response to Google and Facebook’s increasing clout in this space.

Reuters reported that both Facebook and Google are expected to increase their share of online display advertising in the United States in 2011 by 9.3% and 16.3%.

In contrast, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo are forecast to lose share, with Facebook expected to surpass Yahoo for the first time.

Similarly in the UK, DMGT’s Northcliffe Media, home to 113 regional newspapers, recently announced it was forging a joint partnership with Trinity Mirror’s regional sales house, AMRA.

This will create a commercial proposition encompassing over 260 titles, including nine of the UK’s 10 biggest regional paid-for titles. Like The Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL arrangement, this new partnership comes into effect in 2012.

These examples all offer opportunities for economies of scale for media outlets and potentially larger potential reach and impact for advertisers.  Given these benefits, I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see more of these types of partnership in the coming months and years.

Damian Radcliffe is writing in a personal capacity.

Other topics in his current hyperlocal slides  include Sky’s local pilot in NE England and research into the links between tablet useand local news consumption. As ever, feedback and suggestions for future editions are welcome.


June 02 2010


WaPo rezones a neighborhood on its site, builds a new local point of entry

Following its recent launch of PostPolitics, The Washington Post today unveiled another stand-alone landing page at PostLocal.com. The page pulls together existing local content from its Metro section, plus houses new blogs and a few interactive features. The goal is to build an engaged local community around a site-within-a-site.

The timing of PostLocal coincides with a hiring frenzy at its new startup competitor in Washington, TBD. The local online-only news venture, owned by Politico parent Allbritton, plans to launch this summer.

Maria Cereghino, a spokeswoman for the Post, told me in an email that she “would not characterize” PostLocal as a response to TBD. Still, there are some prominent similarities between the sites. PostLocal hosts the Post’s new local blog network, which offers a platform to a selection of local bloggers. TBD is working on a similar model and is currently in the midst of solidifying relationships with its own set of local bloggers, Steve Buttry of TBD told me.

PostLocal is also home to interactive tools, like “The Daily Gripe,” powered by SeeClickFix. Locals can post a complaint about problems in their neighborhoods, like a broken street sign, or a large pothole. The tool automatically sends a notification of the problem to the proper authority. Users can vote on gripes they like (or, perhaps, dislike) most; one gripe per day gets a full report.

PostLocal and PostPolitics represent a shift in thinking about how newspaper readers arrive at the paper’s website. Aside from readers who arrive via search or inbound links, the homepage has always been the primary point of entry for regular visitors. But as major news organizations have expanded their content in myriad directions, Post content is competing with itself for reader attention and a showcase spot on the front page. The PostPolitics redesign sought to change that, creating a place for politics-obsessed readers to get just the content they want, something they’ve already been able to do at sites like niche sites like Politico. Now, readers looking for just local content can do the same; if the Post can convince some portion of its audience to use PostLocal as its front door, that could mean a wider array of stories getting attention.

And there’s a potentially lucrative reason to build an engaged local audience. One startup, for example, Main Street Connect, which hopes to get 3,000 franchise-style sites off the ground in the next few years, just attracted $3.97 million in first round financing. AOL thinks it can make money on its growing network of Patch sites. Yahoo is wading in as well. Local advertising remains a largely untapped resource online, and newspapers still have the largest set of relationships with local advertisers in most markets. So even if the Post isn’t seeing a threat, it must at least see some dollar signs.

April 07 2010


Print ain’t dead: How an ad-man-turned publisher is building a local news empire profitably in Texas

John P. Garrett says he worries he sounds like someone from the early 1990s who predicted there would never be a computer in every home. Garrett’s the Texas publisher of seven neighborhood editions of a monthly newspaper called Community Impact Newspaper. And he’s not looking online to grow his business. The difference between him and the Luddite computer naysayer is that, so far at least, he’s been right. His business is profitable, and he’s expanding. His secret to success: attract local advertisers by giving readers relevant content through targeted distribution. And that content is often focused on the sort of local government coverage that newspaper doomsayers say is at the greatest risk.

Garrett left his job as advertising director at the Austin Business Journal in July 2005 after he was inspired by the toll road coverage, or lack of it, in his local newspaper. North Austin is a fast-growing, suburban part of the city, ripe for development. In 2005, the city of Austin had started massive construction on these roads (“they looked like Stonehenge”), but when Garrett turned to his local newspaper he couldn’t find stories on where they were going, or how North Austin residents might use them. “The local papers were very much [covering] ‘the local chess team has made it to state.’ Not that that stuff’s not relevant, but for most people it just isn’t,” Garrett said. His idea: Take the community feel of a local paper, cover neighborhood news the big papers won’t, and focus on business and development stories relevant to a typical resident.

“We write a lot about local government, local development, city business,” he told me. “In the greater Austin area, there’s probably ten different cities. We’re the only news organization that has a reporter at every city council meeting.”

Garrett started his business out of his house, with a $40,000 loan from a low-interest credit card. He hired an editor and writers to take care of the content side; he’d focus on the business end. He’s paid off the debt and now turns a profit. He employs 76 people, including reporters, editors, designers, managers, and ad sales reps. The staff is broken up into teams by location, including at least one reporter, editor, and sales person per area; larger regions get more resources. Three top editors oversee editorial quality across all seven publications.

Direct mail distribution

Garrett says a smart distribution strategy is at least as important as smart content to his success. When we talked, Garrett noted he was on Twitter at that very moment, engaged in a small tiff with Jeff Jarvis, whom he said argues relevant content is the key. “There is talk about hyperlocal content — buzzword, got it. But there’s not enough talk about the distribution of it. [Jarvis] is saying it’s not about the distribution anymore, it’s about relevant content. I’m saying it’s about both.”

When Garrett was preparing to launch Community Impact, he knew he wanted to use direct mail to distribute his product. He’d create targeted editions of his newspapers, print them on high-quality, stitched and trimmed paper, and mail them to everyone in the area. (You can see a copy of the print edition here.) Why not just toss them in driveways? “The Average Joe really hates that,” he told me, and his business is all about reaching the Average Joe (or Jane). He’s skeptical about online ever becoming his primary distribution outlet. “I hope I’m wrong,” he says, pointing out it is cheaper to publish online than mail content. Garrett points to the Huffington Post, which was still not profitable as of a few months ago, as an example of his problem. “If anyone’s made it, it’s the Huffington Post with 9 million in page views. How in the world is ImpactNews.com going to do it?”

This recipe — relevant content, wide distribution, and local targeting — has turned out to be attractive to local businesses looking to advertise. “We’re winning the local battle and we aren’t the least expensive,” Garrett said. Small ads run $350 to $400 per paper, which he says could buy more than a monthly run in a local paper.

Advertising success

I talked with one of Garrett’s long-time clients, the Austin Regional Clinic, which has locations throughout the Austin area and buys ads in all of the newspaper’s editions every month. Heidi Shalev, marketing communications manager, told me she likes being able to customize ads by community, including a map to the closest location. “We decided it would be better to pull out of the Austin American-Statesman. We can drill down into the niche area community [with Community Impact]. With the Statesman, we can’t speak on a more personal level.” (The Statesman does offer zoned advertising, but in fewer zones and lower distribution in those zones.)

Ken Moncebaiz, owner of K&M Steam Cleaning, a carpet cleaning service in Austin, says about a fourth of his business comes from the full-page ad he buys on the back inside cover of the Community Newspaper editions in his area. Since he started advertising in the paper in 2005, he said his business has doubled from five trucks to ten, and he said Garrett deserves some of that credit. He spends $10,000 a month on the print cover ad and an online ad. In all, he spends $36,000 a month on six or seven forms of advertising, like radio ads, online search ads, and other forms of direct mailing like ValPak. He does about $2.5 million a year in business.

“In Austin, there’s like ten different sub-cities inside of it. That newspaper is so neat because it actually gets to the different subdivision in that area,” Moncebaiz explained. “What our customers love, what they all say is they read the newspaper from cover to cover. ‘It’s free, it tells me all about my area.’ That’s why they love it. The reason I love it is everyone reads it cover to cover. I anchor the inside back cover, no one else is allowed to have it. It’s all mine.”

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