WaPo Launches Facebook-Focused Marketing Agency

The Washington Post Co. (NYSE: WPO) is entering the “integrated marketing” space with the launch of SocialCode, which it bills as a full-service branding agency. But unlike the recent efforts by rival newspaper publishers such as Gannett (NYSE: GCI) and Tribune to create standalone marketing units that are a step away from the main content product, WaPo’s effort is strikingly niche: SocialCode, housed within the Slate group, is devoted solely to helping marketers advertise themselves on Facebook.

While that might sound like a thin piece of ground to build a business on, startups like Buddy Media, which received a $5 million investment from WPP Digital a few months ago, appear to be proving that it can be done.

WaPo gave SocialCode a “soft launch” in July. The service’s bid to marketers is that it can help companies expand their Facebook presence through “competitive analysis, application development, Page management, social commerce and fan monetization.” SocialCode is a participant in the beta Facebook Ads API program. [WaPo’s interest in Faceback stretches back: Don Graham has been a director of Facebook since late 2008 and considered investing in the social network early on.]

Last summer, Tribune and Gannett began ramping up their respective interactive marketing efforts. Tribune’s marketing consultancy is called 435 Digital Services, and is named for Tribune’s Chicago street address, while the GannettLocal has been looking to build marketing efforts around areas where it has a strong local sales presence.

The point of both Tribune’s and Gannett’s marketing units is to mine ad dollars from local businesses, the kind more apt to buy space in a directory like the Yellow Pages. With SocialCode, WaPo appears to be aiming for the larger brand dollars that have been steadily slipping away from print newspapers.

Whether it can tap its ad sales relationships and transfer that to an entirely new business that is loosely connected to the publishing of news is a considerable challenge for WaPo, which gets most of its revenues these days from its Kaplan Education business. But at this point, with online advertising growing — especially on Facebook — it’s worth a shot. Release