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Why the decline in local newspapers is about print and not about local advertising. And what publishers have to do now!

Why the decline in local newspapers is about print and not about local advertising. And what publishers have to do now!

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In many countries, local newspapers have been in sharp decline. Too often a drop in local relevance or interest, or the global behemoths like Google and Facebook are blamed.

But looking at the types of advertisers local newspapers managed to gather on their digital presences versus their print ones, shows a much deeper and different challenge that local publishers haven’t sold yet.

Digital is fully reliant on large accounts (direct and indirect sales) and in print small accounts (direct sales) always made a very relevant part of the revenue mix. But in digital they are neglected.

Ever since the internet was invented, there was this promise of free content (one mistake already made and which is covered in length throughout the industry) but also global accessibility from everywhere through the power of algorithms and machines.

“Glocal” – Large campaigns booked by global brands that would automatically turn up on local newspapers without the sales teams having to do anything. The early promise of what we now know as programmatic.

But looking at the promise of “programmatic” and “indirect sales”, almost 20 years into the game, we have to see that mainly Google with their “Google Display Network” got incredibly rich from it, taking at least a 30% cut and delivering ads all across the internet at CPMs of 1-5$ – on every high-, medium- and low-quality website there is that can add a simple ad tag of Google.

Compared to that, print always has been about direct sales – not only with the regional key accounts and national advertisers but mainly the mass of local advertisers. Even in the golden years of print in the 70s and 80s without this basis, most newspapers would have made a much worse business only relying on “indirect sales”, Agencies and large global accounts.

But why are we doing this right now?

We rely on Google to fill up our digital ad inventory, large agencies to book our most prominent positions and global brands posting their national campaigns.

But for the 100s of local advertisers that are still very loyal in print, we have not yet found a solution to make them switch to digital. With the many publishers, I speak to, I always see the percentage of local advertisers with print ads <$1.000 that also do digital at less than 10-20%. Despite all internal, and external agencies, digital sales teams, digital Zeitgeist, etc.

Local Ads in Digital can look so beautiful when done right

But why are we leaving that money on the table a.k.a. why are those sales reps and local advertisers not understanding?

Having seen tens of local advertising turnarounds lately, my answer would be: that just scaling down the options a national advertiser has to fewer ad impressions but with the same complexity in terms of formats, targeting options, buzzwords, etc. doesn’t do the magic.

It can be so complex to book a simple campaign online as a local advertiser with an MBA in digital advertising

Local advertisers – think about a local craftsman – who has a hard day at work, returns back home at 8 pm and now should go to a self-booking (Facebook and others), think about a good idea for a banner design, improve their landing page or understand a reporting of 0,x% CTR and the ROI that means for him/her?


Too complex! They just don’t do it and don’t have the time.

Idea: Offer them a full-service solution (that by-the-way Facebook and Google never can, want and would) where you create a banner without any briefing from the advertisers based on print ads, homepage, Social Media plus the corresponding landing page.

Make sure to serve their ads only locally and on prominent spots in a credible environment (=your local news site) – and report about attention and interactions on the landing page instead of click rates. This makes a round story for the local advertiser.

Offering the same business model, the same complex options, the same digital-only approach and the same reportings like to key accounts and national big spenders is a dead end.

The art is to automate this new approach without becoming uniform or boring. To introduce the new model without additional overhead for advertisers, sales reps and backoffice. This is why service providers like Smartico provide this service A-Z including sales trainings and prices as full business-case and profit-centre.

Reach out to me when I may show you a few turnarounds Smartico was fortunate enough to accompany. Believe me, there’s “money on the table” with publishers on average suddenly doing $15+ CPMs at scale and $100.000 per year already in the first year.

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.