Tribune Follows Gannett Into The Digital Marketing Services Business

With ad dollars for magazines and newspapers continuing to shrink, publishers like Meredith (NYSE: MDP) and Gannett (NYSE: GCI) have expanded the purview of their digital ad sales teams to include digital marketing services offerings outside of the content they produce. Tribune Company is the latest entrant into the interactive marketing space. The publisher, still struggling through its interminable bankruptcy proceedings, has formed a new interactive marketing consultancy called 435 Digital Services. Named for Tribune’s Chicago street address, the project will shift a small number of current ad sales staffers into the new 10-person unit, as well as making a few new hires, according to a piece in Crain’s Chicago Business.

Bill Adee, the Chicago Tribune’s VP for digital, has been put in charge of the consultancy project. If 435 Digital can generate enough revenue, he hopes to expand the team beyond 10 staffers.

The move comes two months after Gannett started its first digital marketing consultancy, GannettLocal, in Phoenix. Like Gannett, Tribune hopes to attract small businesses trying to navigate the marketing waters of Facebook and Twitter.

Newspaper publishers have been slow to recognize the still-growing local online ad market. A number of publishers, most notably EW Scripps (NYSE: SSP), have taken steps to address this oversight in the past two years by targeting local plumbers and pizza parlors, which tended to limit their ad spending to small community weeklies and flyers as newspapers concentrated on regional retailers and classifieds. The rise of hyperlocal websites has finally forced newspaper to think a bit more broadly, since these sites represent an additional threat to the one posed by Craigslist, which played a large part in the evaporation of newspaper classified ad dollars.

Even though newspaper publishers like Gannett and Tribune might succeed in capturing some incremental ad dollars, saving the jobs of many on the sales side, it’s worth wondering what the impact of shifting digital resources outside of supporting their companies’ print and digital content will ultimately have.