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Thoughts On Selling the WWW.

Three Ideas For Newspapers in 2008

Posted by Dan Vigil on January 2, 2008

Having spent just under 500 days in the industry, I’m not really qualified to comment on where newspapers are going or what they should do in the coming years but I have seen enough to form some entertaining ideas on new business models that might work. 

Along with the ideas outlined here, newspapers have a number of challenges to overcome which I feel are limiting their growth  and future success. The most limiting of these being the ability to activate new ideas often and quickly. In my estimation, newspapers have a 18-24 month window to move on these ideas to maximize their revenue opportunities.

Here’s three business ideas for newspapers in 2008 that may help them capitalize on their position in the local marketplace and acquire new customers over the next 18 to 24 months:

1. Web Development & Hosting For Businesses.

As part of the API’s Newspaper Next initiative, seven local news organizations were selected to launch N2 pilot projects over a 4 month period. Local market research was conducted to determine what “jobs” businesses needed done. One of the prominent discoveries among non-advertising small businesses was that they needed  help developing an effective web presence. Local newspapers are in a great position to develop and promote web sites for small businesses.

Whether it’s a shopping site profile page or a full blown 15 page site, local newspapers can capture the market for local web development and on-line promotion. Local newspapers have creative services departments in place churning out print ads 24 hours a day in many cases. With the proliferation of easy to use web development tools and templates, web ads are much easier to develop than print ads. Most layout and design software including Adobe’s Creative Suite come with “save for web” features built in.

“That’s a completely different business model”, a colleague of mine argued. “How can we maintain the servers and all the programming”. Newspapers may not realize it, but they are already in the hosting and design business. Each section of the newspaper site is its own “mini” web site. Servers are already co-located and there are no real technology barriers to hosting and maintaining web sites today. Newspapers also have the layout, design staff and systems in place which local businesses need.

“But most businesses already have web sites.” it might be argued. While this may be true, I’d challenge any newspaper to take a random sample of 10 local business websites to see what you’re up against. In my estimation 6 out of 10 sites are outdated, poorly designed and generally ineffective as an advertising vehicle. The average local newspaper  has been designing advertisements for businesses for over a 100 years. They know how to write effective copy and turn customer ideas into action generating advertisements. The WWW can be thought of as nothing more than a giant newspaper or yellowpage directory.

Business models and pricing still need to be worked out, but the real value here is in relationship building. There are over 200, 000 businesses in the average metropolitan marketplace, there might be 2000 to 3000 who have been “touched” by the average print sales executive.  Providing these new services expands the prospect base and opens up new opportunities to market products to non-customers who might not ever advertise in the local news paper. Special print/on-line bundles can be created to market a web presence along with additional on-line or print exposure.

Becoming the web presence provider for local businesses is like owning their telephone, fax machine or front door.  Newspapers are effectively locking in a relationship with that business. Whether it’s facilitating domain name registrations, providing self-service web creation tools or complete web services, newspapers are helping businesses attach themselves to their local newspaper, a brand they’ve trusted for years.

2. Renting Mobile CSC Codes to Businesses

Whereas the technology and price barriers to web site development have come down, these barriers are still very much in place for mobile advertising. The cost and price of mobile devices are dropping but the processes by which advertisers can start using mobile advertising are still too complicated and expensive for business owners. There are many applications and ideas for mobile advertising within an industry or vertical market. The basic ability to communicate with customers via text messaging is something businesses will find invaluable for local promotions. 

 The most common mobile programs and easiest to employ are based on CSC (Common Short Code) text messaging. A CSC is a 5 or 6 digit number or letter combination, similar to a phone number which mobile phone users can text messages to interact with businesses.  The CSC itself costs from $500 to $1000 per month, and requires a somewhat lengthy and detailed application process. Newspapers can setup a master CSC for their business community and rent the keyword phrases to local businesses. For example, mobile users might text the phrase “Free Pizza” to  LANEWS (526397) and receive information on a free pizza deal in town. Newspapers can earn monthly fees for renting the phrase and CPA (Cost Per Action) fees for each response received. Because this type of marketing is in its early stages, newspapers can become the front runners in providing local mobile advertising services to businesses. Again, the strong brand and reputation that local newspapers enjoy will help them in acquiring new revenues from advertisers who are currently non-customers.

3. Email Marketing For Businesses

If they don’t have one already, every business should have an email list of all their local customers. Newspaper’s can create programs to help businesses collect email addresses and send emails with promotional information. Newspapers should already be actively collecting email addresses from visitors to the news site and creating opt-in lists of users who are open to receiving information on deals from local advertisers.

With the increase in behavioral targeting capabilites and the proliferation of personalization features on local news websites, newspapers can create databases of consumer information. Local businesses can then be matched up with consumers by interest.  Email marketing can also be bundled with local direct mail campaigns providing for “Total Audience” direct marketing programs.

The Work Factor: 

Henry Ford once said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Recognizing that the strength of newspapers lies in their strong LOCAL brand, ad production systems, and local sales forces, these ideas are in no way “easy” to implement.  In fact, I think newspapers and especially their sales forces will have to work harder and more consistently than they ever have to succeed in todays marketplace, but the results will be worth the effort.

 “The Word Is Alive”

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5 Responses to “Three Ideas For Newspapers in 2008”

  1. nabi said

    Thanks for the nice article site

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  2. Rich, Sr. said

    Excellent suggestions. [Did you really only work for a newspaper for 500 days?] To your point about mobile CTA:

    Cellyspace offers a do-it-yourself tool for consumers & enterprises to create mobile CTA programs. We are currently working with several newspapers. They are building a new revenue streams with minimal investment.
    http://help.cellyspace.com/240_71_17

  3. angie said

    I found your blog in a web search and I’m reading your comments with a great deal of interest. Guess what? I’m not trying to SELL you anything with my comments! Doncha hate that? Sheesh….

  4. oasis1984 said

    Great Articles…. Thank.

  5. Varun said

    hi
    it was a great article. I want to know how we can do Brand extension in case of Newspaper Brand(children’s newspaper).

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