Today's media are becoming increasingly interconnected. Look at the front page of any newspaper website and you'll see podcasts, video and blogs as well as repurposed print material; trainee journalists are learning video skills as well as traditional print skills; and more and more newspaper groups are investing in radio or television channels.
On the editorial side, integration rules. But what about advertising? Cross-platform advertising has become a holy grail – but is it a myth or a reality?
Peter Guy, advertisement manager and director at Shropshire Newspapers, says, "From my perspective, it's very much reality." He's been selling print and online media together for two years, and says, "There is much less emphasis on print-only advertising. Much of our sales are now combined. We sell Shropshire Star together with Shropshirestar.com virtually every time we make a sale into our features and supplements."
The Shropshire Star also has a low proportion of online-only sales. These have only been targeted in the recruitment sector, where a number of print advertisers had lapsed, shifting their advertising to recruitment sites such as monster.com. Advertisers who have been inactive for more than twelve months are now being offered an online-only product with Shropshirestar.com as a pilot, and it has been quite successful so far. But Peter Guy admits that, "Print is always our number one", with online-only being adopted only tactically.
Online only sales
XYZ Media (* see footnote) has also adopted an integrated sales model for print and online advertising at its papers. But Bob (* see footnote), commercial manager at XYZ Media, says single media sales are still important within the integrated business. For instance, he identifies national display advertisers as a crucial segment for online-only sales. Digital switchover, car manufacturers, Sky TV and phone companies are all interested in online ads while their interest in local print media is low. With online sales, he says, "we get agencies who would not normally go in the paper."
Recruitment, too, is a strong online-only sale. Advertisers, he says, are getting much more out of online ads now. "We sell a lot of enhancements there for the online stuff. We don't just package it up as a promotion." Online recruitment ads give some idea of how much more complex online sales can be than print, too. Services such as CV matching can be offered, in addition to banner ads, postings and featured recruiter buttons.
Sales team organisation
Over the past few years, newsrooms have become more integrated – separate online content departments have been merged into the 'print' structure so that the same journalists are now creating content for both print and web. That change has affected ad departments too, with regional papers now using a single sales team for both online and print advertising sales.
Rather than organising the team by advertising medium, Peter Guy says, the Shropshire Star has focused on individual sales sectors, with a brief to sell across both print and online. For instance, motors and property have their own teams, and each sector has a website to appeal to these particular advertisers; Jobsstar, Motorstar, and Propertystar. The leading estate agents and motor dealers in the area all have different banner ads, too, which can be used on the front page or elsewhere on the site. Advertisers will be encouraged to sponsor video content – so there is a quite sophisticated online offering, which doesn't merely replicate print content.
At MEN, too, Catrina Page, head of sales intelligence, says, "We have a totally integrated sales force across all the business verticals." Sales staff are selling not just print and online, but Channel M television ads. And the online portfolio doesn't just include the Manchester Evening News site, but also thejobsmine.co.uk and citylife.co.uk, allowing quite sophisticated campaigns to be rolled out across a number of properties. However, MEN hasn't entirely given up single-medium sales – there is also a dedicated Channel M team which focuses on driving revenue from local advertisers.
Catrina Page also points out that advertising campaigns can include van sides and A-boards – a major part of the campaign advertising the opening of the Ashton-under-Lyne IKEA store. While incorporating TV and online advertising might be sexier, more traditional media also have an important part to play in a complete cross-platform package.
Online advertising does need to be tailor-made for different sectors, which have quite different competitive environments. For instance, Bob says, while most of XYZ's online advertising is sold, online property ads are given away free of charge with the print advertising package. "There are so many property sites out there," he says, that it is difficult to charge for the service.
And there's a good business reason for the papers to give away this advertising. "It's vital for us to have the quantity of properties online; then on the back of that, we can sell associated advertising such as insurance, home moving companies and so on."
All about reach
The move to amalgamate print and online properties is driven by the increasing use of reach, rather than circulation, as a basis for advertising decisions. Associated Northcliffe Digital, in April this year, published research showing its print and web brands reached 22m people – 17% percent more than shown by previous measurements. Manchester Evening News, too, sees reach as its most important figure – including both free and paid-for newspapers, as well as TV and radio channels – and earlier this year became the first regional paper to produce an ABC 'group product report' including print and online figures side by side.
Although Catrina Page believes the lack of a standard industry metric for measuring cross-platform reach is problematic, she says that agencies in particular are highly interested in the audience delivery that a cross-media campaign can achieve. MEN, together with a number of industry bodies, is working hard to help establish standards for 'reach'.
With print circulations in steady decline, emphasising reach is a canny move for regional newspapers; the addition of online readers can boost the publication's reach significantly. That adds value to the advertising product – and may enable publishers to achieve better prices.
It's a message that goes down well with advertisers, says Peter Guy, who admits to "preaching the reach". Bob also finds this approach successful - "We sell a total audience package now," he says, "and that has caught on extremely well."
Concerns that the website might cannibalise newspaper sales haven't proved true, he says. Reach appears to be increased rather than cannibalised by the website. The site also delivers a different audience from newspaper readers, with online readers being generally more affluent.
Creative sales techniques can vastly increase the revenue potential of the news brand. For instance, Peter Guy quotes the example of a local kitchen company that started with a display ad on the front of the free weekly. To replace this, the ad sales department proposed sponsorship, a weekly double centre, a button on the website, and a radio campaign, together with exhibitions and advertising in a bi-monthly magazine, all within the same media group. (Shropshire Star owns three radio stations – Telford FM, The Severn FM, and The Wyre FM). This was packaged as a one-year campaign. Peter Guy estimates that this increased the advertiser's spend over that period from £20,000 to over £60,000.
However, he admits that making the pricing work has to be strategic, since online media tend to generate significantly lower revenues than print. That's one reason for the group's disinclination to pursue online-only sales; "The value of the website is to us more for reach for the package – it will never replace the revenues we get in print." The increase in yield is useful, particularly since the incremental costs of online sales are low - but it has to be managed carefully to avoid diluting the existing print product.
The evolving offering
While at the outset, online sales focused purely on selling ads within an online newspaper format, the offering has become more sophisticated. Bob says that supplements are now being ported online as microsites, providing a new, more targeted product for relevant advertisers.
But, he warns, increasing sophistication makes its demands on ad sales executives. "You have to understand the audience more – you have to be smarter. Here, we can really target it – we know where they go when they come on our site, and we know what type of stories they read, and where they go next."
He's particularly excited by the way the online medium can support hyperlocal advertising. 'Hyperlocal' is definitely a buzz word in regional papers at the moment, but it's difficult to deliver in print. On the other hand, with online ad sales, he says, "we can map a tiny area and get the local butcher on it", accessing advertisers who might not have considered print advertising worthwhile.
Hyperlocal ads can be booked for articles with specific local content, using geotagging to manage the media portfolio. For instance, reports on local football matches at could be associated with advertising from local sports outfitters, or even the caterer providing pies at the football ground.
Selling cross-media content has its challenges. Some of these are cultural. Most advertising sales personnel in regional newspapers have been trained in a print environment. Online ads have their own pricing structures; selling CPM instead of column inches can prove a stumbling block.
Bob admits his background is selling newsprint – so he has already had to make this transition. The biggest difficulty, he feels, is dealing with ad sales staff who don't regularly use the internet. "You need to be able to see what's involved, what's on the site. It's difficult for people to get their heads around 'what am I selling?' It's a culture thing." He has found that salespeople who actively use Facebook and other networking sites adapt to online sales much more easily.
Peter Guy also found there was a cultural bar to tackling cross-media sales. New training mechanisms had to be designed with cross-platform sales in mind. "It was a question of educating the sales team – selling print was all they'd been used to. Now it's like riding a bike – it's become second nature."
He also points out that support systems, such as the customer relationship management software used by the sales team, need to be designed for cross-platform sales. Their print-driven systems have been modified by in-house company PCS.
While print and online ad sales are now coming together, though, other media sales are still mainly separate. For instance, at Shropshire Newspapers, radio sales are handled separately for the most part - it's only on major advertising campaigns that a cross-media team will bring radio into the mix. Even at MEN, though TV is sold alongside online and print, the Guardian Media Group radio stations usually sell their advertising separately – though they do enter some of the larger campaigns as media partners.
Even so, the fact that a newspaper-led regional media group is proposing cross-media advertising campaigns marks an interesting change in the way media is sold – with the brand, rather than media buyers, now beginning to make the running in packaging different platforms together.
Manchester Evening News has had some real successes here. For instance, the 'I Love Me' health awareness campaign, funded by NHS trusts across Manchester, ran across the newspapers, MEN website and Channel M television station - and won Cross Platform or Portfolio Sell of the Year and Integrated Campaign of the Year at the Newspaper Society's Advertising and Digital Media Awards. (Its 'Moneysense' campaign for Natwest grabbed silver in both categories – MEN must be doing something right!)
One of the factors that has helped MEN to achieve such success in cross-media advertising is its offer of a full range of creative services across platforms. For instance, on a recruitment campaign for Cousins Furniture, MEN designed the online banner ads, a 20 second TV advertisement and colour display ads in the papers and job supplements in a fully bespoke campaign.
The right creative approach can help win clients over to a multi-platform campaign. In many cases, traditional print clients simply don't have the expertise to design their own online or TV ads – so the publisher has to offer these services in order for them to be able to take up the offer of a multi-media ad package.
But with an increasing number of media available, it's also important to sell the right products – rather than just trying to cross-sell every product in the media stable all the time. That means ad sales staff need to have the same expertise you'd expect in media buyers – able to put together a media package that delivers the right audience across different platforms. Catrina Page believes this demands increasing sophistication from the publishers. She says, "We made the decision two years ago to decouple our print titles, moving away from package selling in order to ensure a client only buys what they need." More sophistication both on the creative side, and in media sales, is needed to ensure advertisers don't feel railroaded into a one-size-fits-all package.
Although local papers haven't all embraced cross-platform advertising with the same élan, it's evident that the days of single-medium advertising are numbered. Quite simply, media companies now have too many non-print properties to subordinate them to the demands of the print ad sales department. And advertisers are getting cannier – not just the agencies, but direct advertisers too, according to Peter Guy.
He's adamant that publishers have to get to grips with these requirements – and to be proactive in designing cross-media campaigns for their advertisers.
"You have to embrace cross-platform in the multimedia environment," he says, "because the brand is everything."
|Footnote: Bob and XYZ Media are not real names. ‘Bob’ kindly gave us an in-depth interview, but left the company soon after and asked not to be quoted by name. Bummer!