Posts about Ad

Follow the money? No, lead

A division of ad agency WPP castigates newspaper companies for not selling online effectively:

“With some exceptions, newspaper groups don’t seem to be marketing their digital assets particularly well,” said Adam Smith, the futures director at Group M.

“Regional press groups, in particular, still seem to be overly focused on only selling in print.

“As with radio, the sales forces neglect their digital assets. The typical newspaper sales department still regards online as an exotic distraction, if they are aware of it at all.”

The report is about the UK but the same holds true here in too many newspapers and magazines. The many conferences I go to about the future of journalism and media rarely include the sales side of media companies and less rarely advertisers. We fret about where the money’s going to come from but don’t include the money people. There are exceptions; this was the reason the Online Publishers Association was founded. But it’s time to both educate and pressure the money people, for if you don’t lead the money, you’ll follow it as it goes elsewhere.

The yahoos and Yahoo

Today’s announcement of a big deal between Yahoo and a bunch of midlevel newspaper conglomerates has its benefits for both. But I can’t help but thinking that this is a meeting of old, old-media companies and the new, old-media company, Yahoo.

The benefits: The newspapers will get local functionality they need and new means of selling automated ads they don’t have and they will tame the beast they thought was a competitor. And Yahoo will get more content (can it ever get enough?).

But they’re both trying to maintain old businesses and old models.

Classified hasn’t just moved online; it’s dead as a category. Craig didn’t kill it. He was merely the first and smartest to see that the internet connects buyers and sellers directly. It massacres middlemen. And both newspapers and Yahoo still want to be middlemen. So the real challenge is to figure out how to enable transactions in new ways.

They talk a lot about content but in a linked world, the goal is not just to own more content but to create a new relationship to more of it: ‘We find the good stuff, wherever it is’ which used to be Yahoo’s goal and should be again — and must become the goal of newspapers as well.

They still operate on the media model of getting people to come into a centralized place and so the newspapers hope that people will go from Yahoo’s gathering point to theirs. Except everyone I know who has done a content deal with Yahoo finds that it is not terribly good at sending them traffic because Yahoo — like newspapers themselves — wants people to stay in its world.

Dean Singleton, one of the moguls in the deal and one of the smartest and toughest newspapermen alive, said this in The Times: “There has been a big question asked for a while as to how newspapers will navigate the online future. I think this is the answer to that question.” I sure hope he said more than that (and I’ll bet he did). For this is not the answer. Is it an answer? Maybe. Maybe not. The challenge is to find many answers and relying on a portal has proven to be an incomplete one. Ditto being a portal. The question is not, ‘How do we get enough stuff to get people to come to us?’ That is their old-media model. I think the question is, ‘How do we go to where the people are with what they need and how do we enable them to do what they want to do?’ That is what Google asks itself.

PR and the new architecture of information

PR, flackery, public information, press agentry, whatever you call it, its mission has always been spin: telling their side of a story. But in a world of links, in our new architecture of information and news, PR and original sources of information have a new role and responsibility. They can’t just spin anymore. They have to inform. In some cases, they even have to perform a journalistic function.

In the past, flacks could live behind the scenes, working stories and reporters and trying to push their client for coverage or get their angle into coverage. They were hidden. That began to change when a highly competitive, fragmented media world made access to celebrities — of show business, business, or politics — more valuable, putting the PR person in the role of gatekeeper. The press had until then acted as the gatekeeper to the public; now the flacks guarded the gates to the more valuable asset: the stars.

The dynamics have shifted again thanks to the internet, for now links and searches can take us directly to the source of information: a company’s, politician’s, or government agency’s site. This sounds like nirvana to the flack: direct access to the public, bypassing those damned reporters and editors. Fine.

But this also places a new responsibility on these original sources: We’re going to expect them to tell us the truth. We come to them seeking information about a product or a pubic stance or an action. If they give that to us, then great. They earn a place in that new architecture of news and information. But if they fail, if they give us incomplete or false information or try to hide behind spin that can always be unspun, then they risk new penalties: We won’t trust them, their products, brands, and clients and we will warn all our friends at twice the speed of spin. There are new penalties for misbehavior.

So this isn’t just about a new ethic of information necessitated by the link and search. It is also about a new form of self-interest for those who say they are in the business of public relations and public information. We’re the public and now we can not only come to you directly, we can penalize you directly when you lie to us.

That is one of the morals of the Edelman Wal-Mart blogging mess: The agency tried to hide in the old ways of PR but once exposed for its manipulation ended up doing more harm to itself and its client(s) and brand than if it had just done nothing. That was the message I would have tried to deliver to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association if I’d decided to go (see the post below) but I decided it was not the right venue and that it would deliver the message from the negative side.

There is a positive side to this message: Now that you have direct access to your public and now that the public can come directly to you for information, then give it to them: competely, honestly, openly, easily. If you have a good product and service, if you treat your customers with respect, then that becomes the best public relations you can have.

Word of my mouth

When I turned down the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s invitation to be the guy to deliver 40 lashes to Richard Edelman after his PR firm’s Wal-Mart blogging fiasco, I said I’d explain my thinking. So here is my essential argument:

You cannot buy our word of mouth. It’s ours. You cannot buy buzz. You have to earn it. The only way to get either is to create a good product or service and to treat your customers with respect by listening to and being open and honest with them.

That’s it. No trade associations needed. No conventions. No codes of ethics that people sign and then find loopholes through. No star chambers for errant marketers. Just tell the truth. It really is that simple.

If you want to market, then do what marketers do: Buy ads. The nice thing about an ad is that it
is a transparent act of marketing. An ad comes with its own borders around it: You buy space or time to tell your story to my public, who can tell that you bought it and can then judge whether you also managed to buy my integrity and soul. The ad, by its very form, puts that relationship clearly out in public. Ads also support news and entertainment, and have for a century or more, and so I hope they also start to support blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and all that. When you don’t buy an ad and try to influence us behind the scenes, for money or not, then you get in trouble. And you should.

Markets are conversations that you can’t have without us. And we own our end of that conversation. If you try to buy it, you are trying to compromise our integrity, honesty, openness; you are trying to corrupt us and our media and we will judge uyou accordingly. If you try to hide what you’re doing, you are lying to us and we will catch you. And it goes beyond that: If you try to sell what you know about us without our involvement, you are stealing the wisdom of the crowd and we are the crowd.

That’s why I object to the notion that there can be a word-of-mouth industry. It’s our mouth and please don’t try to put words in it.

Now the folks at WOMMA say they stand for doing things right and folks I know said I should give them a chance. I’m sure they are nice and earnest. But, frankly, I didn’t see it as my job to tell them how to tell us stuff. I do not want to start a parallel practice to media training: word-of-mouth training, the science and art of manipulation. God help us.

And I did not see how I could win ending up on stage with a professional spinster; it’s like going on The Daily Show thinking you can be funnier than Jon Stewart. If I’m blunt and direct and say I can’t understand how Edelman et al could have fostered this screwup, then I’m likely to face a hostile crowd. If I try to probe how Edelman’s organization could have so cavalierly ignored his own word and whether that came from a corporate and industry culture of spin and loopholes or from other orgaizational problems, I’d be playing the company consultant and I really don’t care to. If I don’t zap him with sufficient voltage, I’ll be seen as a sell-out. No win. So I chose not to go.

There was one reason I did consider going and that’s in the next post I’ll write, above.

Newspapers’ new boss: Google

Saul Hansell reports in The Times on Google’s test of a new advertising sales marketplace for newspapers.

Is it a good idea? Of course, it is. It is an idea the newspaper industry should have taken on itself 10, no 20 ago. It’s not just about the internet. It’s about finding ways to serve small local advertisers with self-serve sales and new locally focused products. It’s also about finding ways to bring together newspapers into national networks that can sell demographically targeted ads to new marketers. Oh, the industry tried with the doomed New Century Network but it failed because newspaper people are used to working in monopolies; they are not used to thinking like their customers or working together. And that is a major reason they are now in free fall. It’s not the internet’s fault. It’s their fault.

And turning over ad sales to Google — strengthening Google over their own brands, as Hansell’s story points out — only reveals the bankruptcy of their own strategies and soon businesses. Oh, if I were running a newspaper (fat chance), I’d probably sign on, too, because there’s little time and less choice. But it is only an indication of what Google can do and newspapers can’t.

Your customers are ahead of you

The Newspaper Association of America reports a surge in online traffic and audience to newspaper online sites.

On average, over 56.9 million people visited newspaper sites each month in Q3 2006, up almost 24 percent since Q3 2005. . . . The group earlier this month reported unique visitors to newspaper sites rose 31 percent during the first half of 2006 over the same period in ’05. Unique visitors to paper sites averaged more than 55.5 million per month during the first six months of ’06, up almost a third from the 42.4 million during the first half of last year. Newspaper sites generated 2.7 billion pageviews in the third quarter, and visitors spent more than 41.5 minutes each month on the sites, according to the report. During that period last year, visitors viewed around 1.9 billion paper pages, spending 40.4 minutes on the sites on average monthly.

I think this further feeds the idea that newspapers are in “free fall,” as The Times said last week: The rush online is getting faster and faster and if media execs and ad execs don’t catch up, they will be left behind… sooner than they think.

: I call out ad execs for a reason: They are holding back the progress in media. Oh, it’s the fault of media execs as well. But get a load of these stats from today’s Times:

Indeed, the Internet draws only a sliver of the total spent on advertisements. Last year, Internet ads accounted for just 4.7 percent, or $12.5 billion, of the $267 billion spent on advertising, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade association of online publishers. And the top 50 advertisers spent just 3.8 percent of their budgets in the first half of this year on online ads, excluding search, TNS Media Intelligence data shows. For all other advertisers, the average spent online was 6.8 percent of the budget.

Procter & Gamble, the nation’s biggest advertiser last year, spent $33.5 million — less than 1 percent of its $4.6 billion ad budget — on online ads in 2005. General Motors, the second-biggest advertiser, spent $110.5 million online, or 2.5 percent of its $4.35 billion total, according to TNS, which does not include search ads in its figures.

The essential change in media is that we, the people, won’t go to where you are anymore. You have to come to us. And you’re not.

: LATER: The latest circulation stats for newspapers continue to back up the notion of free fall. Romenesko’s summary:

* Los Angeles Times daily circulation dropped 8%; down 6% on Sunday.
* San Francisco Chronicle dropped 5.3% daily; down 7.3% on Sunday.
* New York Times dropped 3.5% daily; down 3.5% on Sunday.
* Boston Globe dropped 6.7% daily; down 9.9% on Sunday.
* Washington Post dropped 3.3% daily; down 2.6% on Sunday.
* Wall Street Journal dropped 1.9% daily; WSJ Weekend Edition down 6.7%.
* Chicago Tribune dropped 1.7% daily; down 1.3% on Sunday.
* USA Today dropped 1.3%.

Well, duh

Sir Martin Sorrell, ad mogul, is finally figuring it out: “Google said we spend 20% of our time online, so in theory, and I stress in theory, that’s where the internet market should go. It shouldn’t just be 14%, it should be more than that.” And whose fault is that, Sir?

Bad news

Just piling up the bad news for newspapers this week:

* Newspaper circulation continues to clog: “Industry sources who have seen the numbers tell E&P they anticipate that for the six months ending September 2006, top-line daily circulation will fall roughly 2.5% while Sunday will drop approximately 3%.”

* Newspaper advertising is declining: “Earnings from three big newspaper companies — Tribune Co., New York Times Co. and Belo Corp. — provided more dramatic evidence that print-advertising revenues have gone into decline after a long period of low growth. All three posted lower newspaper-advertising revenue in the third quarter compared with the year-earlier period, echoing results from most of the companies in the industry that have reported earnings in recent days. . . . Results in recent days have reinforced gloomy predictions coming from some analysts. Last week, Merrill Lynch cut its newspaper-ad revenue forecast for this year to flat from 1.2% growth and revised its 2007 forecast to a drop of 1.5%.”

* Those who thought they were saved from conglomerates and profit margins when they were bought by local owners were fooling themselves. Those papers are laying off: “The new owners of three former Knight Ridder newspapers announced layoffs, expected layoffs and abrupt changes in management yesterday as they painted a bleak outlook for the newspaper industry. . . ‘Newspaper publishers and owners across the country are saying that this has been the worst 90-day stretch that they have ever seen in the business,’ Mr. Tierney wrote. ‘They also universally believe that this reduced revenue picture will be a permanent part of the future of newspapers.’ ”

* There’s upheaval all over: NBC News cuts back. The Chicago Sun-Times appears to be for sale. The Toronto Star ousted its editor and publisher. Liberation’s future in France is in question.

That’s just one week.