Tag Archives: advertising

Meaningful content with lasting value and engagement

For this round of the Carnival of Journalism blog fest, my friend and research buddy Jonathan Groves posed the following questions: How do you define meaningful content that has long-lasting value? What is the best way to evaluate content that fosters deep engagement with the audience? Groves wants to find a way to go beyond just “immediacy” to properly value pieces of content  with “longevity” that people return to repeatedly for connection, reference, or enjoyment.

First of all, I think that in order to increase the longevity of a meaningful piece of journalism, you’ve got to surface it for your readers at the right time, in the right way. A lot of that comes down to creating better systems for tagging and organizing content. For example, in the New York Times Innovation Report, they discussed the value in being able to do things like sort recipes by cooking time, restaurants reviews by geolocation, and similar. It’s difficult and time consuming to do this after the fact, they point out, so having a good CMS and established processes that make it a priority to do so at the time of publication are important. There is great potential here that remains untapped, even at well-resourced news organizations like the NYT.

I think Groves is right that not all of this kind of oft-returned to content has to be quite so utilitarian as recipes or restaurant reviews, although that’s an obvious place to start. What about investigative pieces that are relevant to a particular place? What about pieces that could resonate during certain events or milestones, like graduations, weddings, holidays, festivals etc.? I think there is a way to give many well-reported, well-written stories much longer lives, but it starts with making them easily findable, both through search and serendipity.

Second of all, I’m increasingly convinced that it’s less about choosing any one particular “golden” metric that will help us to quantify quality or impactful or engaging content, and more about being smarter and more sophisticated about the way we think and talk about the constellation of metrics available to us – and especially the story we as journalists tell advertisers.

I’m not an expert in advertising, but from talking to newsroom leaders at API’s Research Advisory Board meeting in February, what I understand is that right now advertisers  are also trying to parse the effectiveness of rapidly changing digital and mobile strategies. I have often heard that most advertisers don’t think click-through-rate is a great metric but continue to use it because they aren’t yet sure about  alternatives. I think journalists need to make a stronger case for higher ad rates on the basis of being associated with quality content and venerable media brands, especially on mobile. There’s nothing new about wanting to be associated with a credible brand, of course – it’s never been “only” about the volume of eyeballs. But it seems as though in the “Wild West” of trying to understand mobile and digital metrics we’ve been distracted from emphasizing these fundamentals.

For example, in her book “Saving Community Journalism,” Penelope Abernathy argues that publishers need to move from selling space to selling solutions to advertisers. She notes that a lot of the growth in digital advertising in recent years has come from search, which is all about helping consumers find products they are already inclined to purchase, but that “historically, advertising has served many other functions, from creating demand for a product to reinforcing the loyalty of customers.” She argues that newspapers should aggressively re-position themselves as a cross-platform medium that can provide ALL of those functions to the advertiser.

Similarly, the recently published API report on mobile argues that advertisers buy audiences rather than publications and that publishers need to think more creatively about cross-platform possibilities to provide useful services to people and capitalize on their unique strengths.

Maybe I’m too far off the topic of specific metrics, but I think it’s not so much about numbers, but about the stories they help us to tell about the kinds of people who read a publication, how they feel about it, how loyal they are, etc. and what that means for your credibility as a news organization and your ability to charge enough for your ads to sustain yourself.

Finally, I’m curious to follow the Financial Times’ recen t decision to move from CPMs to “time spent” going forward. They feel this metric will better value their highly engaged audience. As Sam Petulla writes for Contently:

This strategic shift is part of the broader vision that the The Financial Times sees for the future of advertising. [Commercial Director of Digital Advertising]  Slade said that The Financial Times wants to distinguish every aspect of their brand through quality, and using time as an advertising currency fits that mission perfectly.






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Mobile Isn’t “Coming.” It’s Already HERE

Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First Media, gave me the idea for title of  this post at the American Press Institute’s Research Advisory Board meeting on February 10 in Miami, effectively summing up the strongest theme I heard that day from top editors at the nation’s leading newspapers.  Figuring out how to serve audiences’ mobile needs and build sustainable revenue streams from doing so is overwhelmingly top of mind for most news organizations today. Because it has to be.

Today’s news organizations are seeing explosive growth in the amount of their traffic that comes from mobile devices. At the Boston Globe, for some hours of the day, it’s over 50 percent, according to Senior Product Manager Damon Kiesow. Brady described similar statistics at many of the newspapers in the Digital First Media chain, and noted how quickly the numbers have risen even just over the past year.  At the New York Times, mobile traffic is more than one-third, and spikes during breaking news events, editors from that paper said. All of this points to another wave of disruption that may affect the news industry much as the web did.

The problem, of course, is all too familiar. Mobile advertising revenue remains abysmal. Meeting attendees largely agreed that news organizations need to do the following: Create a solid case to convince advertisers to pay higher rates for mobile ads appearing with their engaging, credible content; develop new kinds of mobile-friendly advertising products or models, such as content marketing; and/or create mobile products so crucial to users  that they will pay for them.

Miami, not a bad location for a meeting in February

Miami, not a bad location for a meeting in February

The first step is understanding emerging news consumption behavior on mobile and how it meshes with other things users do with their device. For example, Brian Brett of the NYT said that they are increasingly seeing more scanning and “snacking” behavior on mobile and are trying to understand how that may change the meaning or form of news.  Brady and Gregory Moore, editor of the Denver Post, agreed that news organizations are swimming in data, but they often lack the tools or knowledge to parse the data into actionable strategy and to predict where things are going so that they can get ahead of the curve. They looked to us researchers at the meeting, like Esther Thorson, associate dean at the Missouri School of Journalism, to plan new studies that will help editors better understand the data they have, identify clusters of users, their needs/interests, and how their mobile behavior may change in different circumstances. Longitudinal data is needed to be predictive.

Another key insight from Brian Brett at the NYT is that currently advertisers are buying audiences not environments, and news producers need to convince them to do the opposite. Even with their mobile growth, news organizations can’t compete with the Googles and Yahoos of the world when it comes to pure volume. They need to make the case for higher CPMs based on the quality of the content and the brand that the advertisements will be surrounded by. The latter is obviously not a new idea by any means; for example, UNC’s Phil Meyer wrote about the “influence model” in his book The Vanishing Newspaper in 2004,  or the idea that a newspaper’s main product is societal and commercial influence, in which the former enhances the value of the latter. But as Brady points out, newsrooms have, in recent years, been on the race for pageviews at all costs, and this may have done damage to their influence, not to mention the journalism and the audience experience.

In many ways, the challenge comes down to identifying valuable metrics besides page views and helping journalists figure out how to monetize loyalty rather than chasing traffic, an imperative that many people have discussed in future-of-news circles. Several meeting attendees said that advertisers are coming to think that Click Through Rate is an awful measurement, but they continue to use it without an obvious alternative; some noted that academics could play a leadership role in helping the ad industry understand why they should use better measurements such as attachment to a news brand, which can be linked with propensity to buy. Rachel Davis Mersey of Northwestern, who  has expertise in studying identity, gave the example of Fox News, a company that is very good at attracting advertisers because it can show that whatever it advertises, viewers are into it – the same basic principle as celebrity endorsement. Having a formalized relationship with subscribers can be be a unique selling proposition.

A few other items discussed/suggested:

  • Newspapers should partner with creative local ad agencies, Thorson said. They understand mobile better than most.
  • What would cause the mobile consumer to just buy a product right there, on their phone, immediately after seeing an ad or a coupon, Moore wondered. This means understanding different levels of comfort among consumers in terms of willingness to buy online.
  • Could reading the paper be a kind of membership like you get at Costco? You get access to certain sales/products?
  • Brett observed that in some ways mobile is not a new channel, it is a  horizontal disruptor. A lot of people are using their devices from their couch, meaning that sometimes it’s not location that is the most relevant difference about consumption.

Bottom line: Don’t make the same mistakes of 10 to 15 years ago when it comes to dealing with disruptive technology.


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Ad Departments Can Help Us Save Journalism

When Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel wrote the first edition of Elements of Journalism in 2001, the Staples Center controversy at the Los Angeles Times was still quite fresh, and journalists around the country were perhaps feeling even more protective of the proverbial wall between the editorial and business sides of news organizations.

However, Kovach and Rosenstiel (my former bosses at the Committee of Concerned Journalists) argued that this controversy actually revealed the poverty of the wall metaphor in actual practice. Instead, they argued powerfully that isolation served nobody very well because we are all on the same side.

Great journalism from a credible source sells ads.  Ads make great journalism possible. Anything that might undermine the trust of readers and viewers hurts us both. So it goes.

My observations at metropolitan daily newspapers lead me to believe that we are poised right at the cusp of developing a more productive relationship between business and editorial departments, but workplace routines and traditions – especially those that are well-intentioned and rooted in core values, even if  they don’t ultimately serve those core values very well — are hard to break down.

Reporters and editors want to know – heck, are desperate to know — more about their online readers’ habits and desires.  Not so that they can pander to them or sell them widgets, but so they can create multimedia journalism that will prove relevant and serve their needs as democratic citizens.  In many cases, a wealth of information about readers just sits on another floor of the building where it is never shared.  This serves nobody very well.

I’m behind on my blogging, but I wanted to be sure to highlight what I thought was a particularly important recent post relevant to this subject on Online Journalism Blog, “10 ways that ad sales people can save journalism” (thanks to Amy Gahran and E-Media Tidbits for the link.) It’s a British blog, but the lessons certainly seem relevant to U.S. papers.

I’d also like to point out that I’m not sure how many people realize how much organizational change has been forced upon advertising departments — often when we think about media change we think about news folks now coping with 24-7 deadlines and the need to produce multimedia. But the changes faced by ad folks are possibly just as disruptive. Newspapers were so fabulously successful for so long that many ad sales people simply had to answer the phone and take orders, top advertising executives at a metro daily told me.

Small advertisers who are now a vital source of revenue on the Web used to have no chance at affording print ad space and therefore aren’t even thinking about advertising with the local daily. This requires business managers to completely retrain staffers to aggressively sell their porfolio and go out into the business community to develop new relationships, an entirely different skill set and perhaps more importantly, mindset than they’ve ever had before. Sweeping organizational change is difficult and most of all, often time-consuming — but certainly never more vital.


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New Advertising Model?

In a comment on my last post about “verification communities”, my good friend and very wise former journalist with 18 years of experience in the newspaper biz Doreen Marchionni mentioned a new strategy for online newspaper advertising that I wanted to take a moment to highlight because I think it makes some very interesting food for thought.

As Doreen noted, the Lawrence Journal-World has created a “marketplace” section for local businesses that gives everybody a free listing. Check it out.  It’s a simple and clean site design and it seems at a glance to be well-organized.  You can pay to upgrade your ad.  In many ways, this is an Internet-era strategy — think about how Google has made much of its cash  — but as another fellow doc student Mike Martinez pointed out, it’s also quite old — the same basic idea behind supermarket shoppers you pick up for free at the grocery store, and, I suppose, your simple phone book.   To me, it seems pretty obvious that linking the newspaper’s credibility and connection to the community with a service like this that mimics some of the participatory environment of the extremely successful and newspaper classifieds-eating Craigslist is fairly genius.  Let’s just hope that newspapers are not reluctant to follow this model because it comes from a small — albeit well-known as an innovator — newspaper.  Doreen and I have seen that attitude before in our research.

Another idea I would pair with this was mentioned once at a seminar of some type (I can’t recall) by Missouri Journalism School professor Marty Steffens. She suggested thinking creatively about how to help local businesses and secure their ad dollars by finding ways for them to connect with busy people online.  What if you could order a meal, or purchase several items at the hardware store, with just a click of the mouse, and just stop on by to pick it up on your way home from work?  Sure, you can already do this with Pizza Hut and other chains (sometimes), but this service would be especially designed for local business as well. It seems like a newspaper Website would be ideally suited for helping to direct people to this service.   While we’ve all heard a lot about “hyperlocal” journalism, I haven’t heard this term applied as often to the business side of operations.

I spoke with a top business-side executive at a metropolitan daily newspaper recently and he told me that in the past, his staff did little more than simply answer the phones and take orders.  Seriously.  That was it.  At this paper, which has long commanded a high penetration rate, it was a remarkably easy business to be in.  Small local businesses didn’t even bother to call as they knew they couldn’t afford ad space anyway.

It’s belaboring the obvious to say that times have changed, leaving this newspaper’s ad staff lacking the skills or perhaps more importantly, the mindset, to deal with a world in which those ad dollars have to be fought for.  Small local businesses must now be approached and convinced that they can now afford to place an ad, if not in print, then possibly online.  Volume has to make up for some of the big checks once written by the department stores of old.  Let’s hope we can figure this one out.

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