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Summary:

For the first time in the internet’s history, the hottest thing online today is local. Through daily coupon deals, place reviews and locatio…

For the first time in the internet’s history, the hottest thing online today is local. Through daily coupon deals, place reviews and location sharing, local services is where it’s at.

That should finally mean boom-time for local newspapers, long out in the wilderness during an online age whose abundance had undermined their historical lock-down on local ad sales.

Newspapers have been undergoing a steady disintermediation for several years now, with Craigslist and Gumtree often held up as shorthand for the demise of classifieds. But publishers have had plenty of time to start from scratch and turn their remaining local ad sales clout toward reinventing the sector on their own terms, with customers in mind.

Yet look at the booming crop of next-generation local ad services and you’ll see none was devised by the operators who once had the market all to themselves. Daily deals vendor LivingSocial is making $1 million a day and is taking $175 million from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), sector leader Groupon could go on to bring daily deals to a much bigger audience if acquired by Google.

Had they injected this stuff in to themselves, local media could have a similarly brighter future. But, once again, it’s Silicon Valley developers and independents with no “media” track record who seem set for fortune.

Established proprietors are now throwing everything and the kitchen sink at advertisers, but some are still coming up short. paidContent:UK recently heard of one recruitment agency which was offered, by a regional news publisher, full-page ads in three of its biggest newspapers plus web banners for just £400. It yielded just eight queries. Unsatisfied even at that low rate card, the advertiser has now pulled its spend from print and radio and now advertises exclusively online.

Contrast that with another case we’d heard about, a small rural spa which opted to market through Groupon. The arrangement compelled it to discount its price and give a cut to Groupon, of course, but resulted in 73 new actual customers coming through its door. In these austere times, that’s not to be sniffed at.

The classifieds market, if it were not already decimated by Craigslist and Gumtree, has lately been battered further by the economy’s impact on small-business spending – no wonder advertisers are flocking to higher-return investments. The upshot: local media operators are losing their historic connection with local businesses.

How are they fighting back? In the States, publishers like McClatchy and Media General have partnered with Groupon to launch daily deal initiatives, powered by and sold by Groupon itself, while others like Cox and Star-Tribune Company are running such programmes in-house using white-labeled technology.

But British newspapers have not yet jumped aboard the local deals bandwagon – for them, deeper refinements and extensions of their existing sales strategy are the order of the day…

Northcliffe, which has 113 newspapers and 155 websites, will in 2011 expand its LocalPeople hyperlocal network to sell ads to a long tail of small business operators, like plumbers, it considers untapped. But, without scale, returns here, by default, could be small pickings.

Johnston Press, which publishes 253 weekly newspapers and 297 websites, wants to offer advertisers better targeting. “We are now implementing the type of technology that will enable us to tag all our content online with 1,300 different keywords,” digital director Henry Faure Walker told a Westminster Media Forum.

Once we tag our content, we can take it to an advertiser – would you like to advertise around Peterborough ice hockey? The yields on that are higher. The advertising model online has struggled – that’s why publishers ae where they are.”

Any new-wave ad model would seem to require satisfying users as much as advertisers. That’s why tools like property search do so well online. In news, advertising has usually been regarded as a necessary evil, separated from users’ main goal of reading content. It may now be a tools, or services, mentality that media operators must adopt, actively helping their users save money.

Johnston has also done a deal to integrate user-powered reviews repository Qype in to its local websites, replacing its existing, in-house directories and events databases.

But partnering with the likes of Groupon and Qype, whilst seemingly smarter than doing nothing, is just indicative that local media proprietors have lost the innovation initiative nowadays. They are needing to work with the pure-play online services that have stolen a march on papers’ own turf.

  1. That’s because local media have “Kindled while Rome burns.” They continue to offer little value in their inventory, limited (if any) analytics, no hyper local or audience targeting and ridiculously high cpm and cpc rates. They never got a handle on the technology despite having plenty of time to do so. I fail to see how they can adapt to integration of social and location based ops when few can provide value on the display side.

    Now sites like adneedle are available to let local advertisers run display on major sites as well as local media outlets, social media, search and even mobile – for a fraction of what local pub fees, with audience targeting, pricing options rich analytics… and its free to use. There are many options for advertisers that save time and avoid overspending through competitive costing and detailed analytics.

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  2. Nice to see an easy-to-use advertising platform like AdNeedle in the comments.

    Seems like local media are still under the impression that specialized, homegrown content (i.e., local, relevant) necessitates a specialized, homegrown ad sales channel (i.e., dedicated sales reps, single-publication rate sheets, fax machines, no automation).

    Local media need to say goodbye to the 20th century and begin monetizing their content with commoditized, highly automated ad sales channels that include easy self-serve options for local advertisers. Expecting a local advertiser to call the local newspaper on the phone and book a campaign with a human sales rep is becoming laughably out-of-date…that’s the most time-consuming, inefficient, and annoying way to launch an ad campaign, especially for a small business owner. There are now ways to keep your content local, relevant, and high-quality, yet tap into sales channels that offer vast economies of scale and monetize content efficiently.

    There’s no way that local content is going away…it’s just the content-to-sales relationship that has to evolve. And despite Groupon being the Flavor of the Month, it’s not all going to be “daily deals.” There are myriad other advertising options that are just as efficient, target-able, and ROI-focused.

    Myles Younger
    Co-founder, http://www.cannedbanners.com

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  3. Myles, you nailed it. Local content is relevant, it’s just very overvalued.

    Local advertisers think that the homepage of the area pub website is highly trafficked and at $40 CPM its still cheaper than mail. That’s an unfair comparison but the only one many local advertisers can make. In actuality, targeting to an audience type online, like “people shopping for cars,” or “like to dine out” will deliver ads to the right people. On the sites that THEY visit, not necessarily the sites you might hand pick. The ability to measurably increase response with targeted delivery makes it a no brainer, and we’ll see more adoption in 2011.

    I do feel that pubs could immediately provide more value with packaged local campaigns. like web, print and direct mail integration. These are still very relevant local sales tools, and blending these increases results. Some are already partnering with Yahoo to allow local advertisers to run within that content network as well, so that could give advertisers a more valuable online presence. Some are offering facebook ads, simply because it’s an easy way to monetize.

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  4. same as yellowpages industry, take a look at IDEARC & R.H. Donnelley both file bankruptcy in 2009!

    People who don’t change their mind will eventually lose competitive edge especially against new technology…

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