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How to scale digital direct sales in the long tail of local print advertisers

How to scale digital direct sales in the long tail of local print advertisers

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Local SMB print advertisers are still a relevant revenue share for regional publishers. But in many publishing houses the key to turn those print revenues into sustainable digital revenues is missing as those customers are usually too small or too inexperienced to book direct online-only campaigns and the digital ad sales teams often ignore them.

Nevertheless, the sheer volume of customers, the theoretical revenue potential and the shift in advertising impact scream for a solution that allows publishers to tap into that potential. We looked at more than 20 regional publishers in Europe to see what business models succeeded in 2021 for SMB advertisers and what success factors could be found.

Challenge: how to transform smb print advertisers like this into digital display campaigns

Regional publishers that scaled local digital ads in 2021 all had in common that they believed in “direct sales” for those type of customers as

a) they will never book programmatic because that is too technical complex for them and

b) they need to have the direct contact to their trusted print sales rep to make the step into digital.

Crucial factor was then to empower the local sales reps in selling an intuitive and effective digital solution to his/her advertisers that allows him/her to shine without the risk of being torn into discussions about “digital technicalities” that they can’t win.

The combination with existing print ads allowed sales reps to sell on top of every existing ads (as opt-out combination or even “auto-bundles”) but also prevented opening up a completely new sales pitch from scratch. Instead of starting the pitch with “now, forget about print, we now have to talk about digital” the close combination to print allowed to seal the digital component with “of course we also extend the reach of your print ad into online”.

The secret sauce of this obvious “auto-bundle” of a print ad and a digital display ad in 2021 could be found in 4 main drivers that separated the successful models from the less successful approaches:

  1. Full Service but No Frills for the Advertiser and the Sales Rep: The successful newspapers took the print ad as a basis but enriched it with information from the web to build a great creative based on clear templates but without feedback loops to individualize the banner or requiring an approval of the advertiser before running the ad. Combinations of technology to build templates and crawl/extract advertiser data but human designers to fine-tune the banners proved most successful.

    Creatives: nice banners out of print data enriched with web data about the advertiser – here in a carousel ad

  2. Auto-Pilot processes in campaign management: In order to not lose the margins gained by automating the banner creation, the most successful publishers then also automated the booking into the ad server. That happened either by pushing all ad tags for local campaigns into one single tag-in-tag campaign that runs on a dedicated spot and just serves those local advertisers that currently need to be live or by pushing the ads into the ad server via an API. Crucial for all of them was to build a system that required no touch from manual campaign management teams as campaigns always have a clear eCPM and hence can be allocated within all existing online-only campaigns very precisely and upfront (see next point).
  3. Simple but holistic and transparent pricing: The clearer the price point and the underlying to-be-expected performance could be articulated by print sales reps in one sentence, the more successful the transformation (of advertisers AND sales reps) became. The most convincing offering we saw is:

    “Dear Advertiser, for 100$ you get 5.000 regionally targeted display ads according to your print ad including banner and landing page done for you by us, served in the 3 days following your print campaign”.

    “Dear Advertiser, for 100$ you get 5.000 regionally targeted display ads according to your print ad including banner and landing page done for you by us, served in the 3 days following your print campaign”. 

    What made this sentence so special for us, is that it breaks down a complex digital model into simple ingredients that each and every print advertiser can understand but it still keeps the logic of digital. This allows to derive a clear eCPM of – in this case – 20$ that helps to allocate the campaign in the ad server and also aligns online ad sales for everyone to see the margins of the print-to-online display ads.

  4.  Let an integrated landing page change the sales narrative: Local SMB advertisers need more than just the creative. They also need
    a landing page to capture leads and track the performance of their campaigns. Usually
    their own website is neither optimized for all devices nor prepared with
    reasonable call-to-actions to make any performance visible. The most successful
    regional publishers combined the landing page into the offering (see “sentence”
    from above) which allowed them to deliver a constantly high page speed and
    destination site quality for readers but also track everything happening there.
    Their reporting than changed from a simple CTR tracking which local advertisers
    can’t relate to, to a story telling approach about attention in terms of
    landing page visitors, their dwell time on the page, their devices, etc.

    Landing pages: no chance to produce any valuable results for advertisers with a destination page like this


    Landing pages from the derived data when creating the creative directly loaded in an overlay on the publisher page


    Dashboards: tell a story about attention and users on the landing pages than a naked ctr

    I am happy to share more details about business cases, publisher names & contacts, supplier names, sales materials, links to creatives, etc. 



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In Smartico´s blog and newsletter we inform you about the latest trends in local and regional advertising. We present best practices from over 200 publishers, and share ideas, inspiration and recipes for success on which advertising concepts can be used convincingly and profitably for you and your SME advertisers.