For Local Media to Thrive, It Must Identify New Customers and Products in 2017

The widely-perceived story on local media is that it’s hurting, with organizations that once dominated local markets having ceded much of their ad revenue to digital companies such as Facebook and Google. But that’s an easy take on a more complicated story -- one that actually provides ample opportunity for many local media players.

In the latest Borrell Associates benchmark report, analyst Gordon Borrell points out that local media’s control of digital advertising dollars has indeed shrunk, from 75% in 2002 to 18% in 2017. However, because digital advertising has grown substantially in those 15 years, that 18% comes out to $12 billion. That is “not-too-shabby,” as Borrell puts it.

Taking advantage of that $12 billion opportunity isn’t as simple as going head-to-head with Google and Facebook and contending that your digital offerings are better than theirs. A more nuanced, considered approach is necessary, as both Borrell and Poynter highlight, and it starts with assessing the digital sales team and offerings.

Borrell points out that many local media entities -- newspapers, TV, radio and other historically traditional media companies -- have relied “almost exclusively” on pushing digital ad products to their existing customer bases. “In other words, they’ve sold all the digital advertising they can to their own customers,” says the report.

The only way local media can thrive is if they overcome this saturation point and identify new customers while simultaneously offering new digital ad products to both current and prospective clients.

Digital is still a new frontier for some local media companies and it needs to be treated as such. Local media organizations should have a plan to provide continuing training to ensure their sales forces, whether digital-only sellers or multimedia sellers, can confidently advise their local advertisers on the right channels to use. They may need to bring in outside consultants to bring the needed perspective. SMBs are increasingly interested in pursuing digital only media strategies and, therefore, want to talk to reps with digital expertise.

And talk is indeed important. Local media benefits by being the faces and names that local advertisers can turn to. Google and Facebook will always be monolithic entities. Leverage the fact that your sales teams are nearby and already part of the community.

Additional products are important as well. The report highlights needs such as web design, social media and online video production as areas that local media have been “resistant” to sell, but explains that they are crucial products that help win clients. According to the report, 77% of local advertisers are purchasing these kinds of digital services, so although they may represent a new idea of “advertising” to media steeped in traditional solutions, they are indeed top of mind for local advertisers looking to build their online presence.

Local media companies should look to work with vendors who can help them seamlessly package and offer these products and services. There are third-parties who can assist in handling the majority of these services, managing a selection of best-in-class vendors on the media company’s behalf, so that the media company and its sales team can go to market quickly and profitably.

There are just a few examples of how local media can grow their digital ad revenue. Local digital advertising is forecast to surpass local traditional media in 2017, so the companies that adapt the fastest will stand to benefit the most. Training a sales force to sell the latest digital services, and then successfully implementing those offerings -- especially digital ones -- are crucial. There is a $12 billion pie to carve up in local digital media, but only those who dedicate the necessary time and energy to digital endeavors will get to taste a slice.