Why small publishers have big advantages in digital advertising sales

Plus: How your news business can get a slice of the pie

November 3, 2021 by Ben DeJarnette

Digital advertising graphic
Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

This Q&A is sponsored by Broadstreet Ads, in recognition of LION’s Local Journalism Awards and the continued dedication and excellence of LION members across North America. 

Advertising is still the primary revenue stream for digital news, and despite the challenges that independent publishers face trying to compete in this market, there are also real advantages to being a local operation. 

In this Q&A, Broadstreet founder Kenny Katzgrau explains a few of the ways that local publishers can grow advertising revenue by leveraging their strengths and capitalizing on their human scale.

If a local business wants to buy advertising, they have a lot of options to do that through a self-service platform. Why might they prefer to work with a local news organization instead?

A good business owner knows that they can’t do it all alone, and the ones who try to take the lone path typically don’t make it very far. They need to delegate to employees and trusted partners to help them achieve their goals.

Small business owners often don’t have the time or expertise to handle their own marketing and advertising needs, and they like working with local people that they know and trust. 

And that’s where the local publisher comes in as the perfect candidate to help small businesses generate awareness, attract potential customers and grow their bottom lines. They have the knowledge of advertising, the audience they’re trying to reach, and an opportunity to help clarify those goals and put a plan in place.

A face-to-face sales meeting is obviously one thing that large platforms can’t offer. How can local publishers make the most of that opportunity?

Publishers should keep in mind that a sales meeting is just that: a meeting. Even the outreach to request the meeting is just exploratory — “hey, let me learn more about your business for 20-30 minutes and let me see if I can help.”

The best thing that anyone in local sales can do is ask questions and listen to understand where you can help. Entrepreneurial journalists will find that they’re surprisingly good at this, despite some initial hesitance.

Here are some simple questions to ask at a sales meeting that will cue other questions — and ultimately a direction for how a publisher can help that business owner with their marketing needs.

  • How are things going?
  • What are you doing that you’re really excited about right now?
  • If you could tell the whole town anything, what would it be?
  • Do you have any events or specials coming up?
  • Have you ever tried advertising before? What worked and what didn’t work?
  • If you were to run an ad campaign, what would a clear success look like?
  • How could extra awareness and attention potentially make a positive impact for you?

Remember to listen to the business owner’s answers and dig deeper! You’re gathering all the information you need to put together a great solution for them that involves advertising to your audience.

By contrast, other sales reps and platforms take the approach of “here’s what we have. Would you like to buy?” That’s like asking to get married at the same time you’re asking for a date.

Self-service platforms won’t ever be able to compete on the personal level where they truly want to help. They’re too distant, too big, have too much turnover among sales reps (if they exist), and just don’t resonate like a local publisher does with a small business.

It’s not a real sales meeting unless the client wants something a little different than what’s being offered. Do you think that’s actually a good thing for local publishers, because they can be more flexible than major advertising platforms?

Yes and no.

Flexibility is sometimes great for winning customers. If you bend over backwards to do “x” when the competition can only do “y,” you’ll probably get the sale.

That strategy, however, isn’t scalable. One-off customizations are a time-consuming way to deliver value, so publishers would be best served to offer other ways to deliver value that are low effort — like an additional week of advertising. 

At Broadstreet, we are really good at providing tools to do just that: offer something valuable, easy to produce, and customizable (to a degree) to try to make prospective advertisers happy. A publisher using Broadstreet, to put it bluntly, looks like a badass compared to their competition.

What are other ways that local publishers can stand out and be competitive in the advertising market?

Impress the prospect

You can impress the client by asking questions and listening — that is the most important thing you can do. Most business owners will be floored that you aren’t trying to hard-sell them.

You can also impress them by showing them one of our ad products with all of their branding and photos already intact, as if it were live on your site. It only takes a couple of minutes, and our publishers swear it’s a  big game-changer.

Deliver a great campaign

Whatever you do,  do not be caught selling solely standard, static banner ads unless your client insists on them. Everybody sells banner ads. Step it up and sell something that delivers more value, performs better and retains business!

Repeat the business

Check in with your customers mid-ad campaign and, if needed, find ways to help out a lagging campaign or highlight a campaign that’s doing really well. So many sales reps make a sale and then disappear. Be the person in your customer’s corner of the ring, and you’ll become an exceptional and valuable partner.

This Q&A is sponsored by Broadstreet Ads, in recognition of LION’s Local Journalism Awards and the continued dedication and excellence of LION members across North America.

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