I don't know the first thing about the advertising business, but it doesn't take a madman to see that locally focused advertising online seems stuck in the 1990s, whereas the content side of the equation is bursting with new ideas and experimentation.
This has been bugging me for a long time. A lot of people have approached me about starting a news outlet of one sort or another in Seattle, and so far nothing has made sense because the revenue equation isn't there. Why is that? Here's why:
- To my knowledge, venerable local news outlets and even innovative new ones have not given fresh thought to the way advertising is sold, or what it is or should be.
- While there are plenty of Chuck Taylors out there who have good ideas about news content and how it should be presented online, I know of no one on the ad side with whom to team up who is bursting with ideas about how to efficiently and creatively tap what has to be massive potential local revenue.
I was thinking about this again today after I encountered an excellent post by Dave Chase, the publisher of SunValleyOnline, who has advice for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and anyone else tackling the local advertising market with an online-only news product. Chase is a former Microsoftie who was involved in Sidewalk. His "Top 10 business mistakes that newspapers must avoid as they go online-only" is a must-read. Highlights:
- "Most newspaper sites clutter up their pages with as many ads as possible. ... Many of these sites also use tiny static ads. There has been ample research on ad effectiveness of various types of banner ads. Apply that insight."
- "While there are thousands of businesses in Seattle, it's a path to failure to think you can just churn through advertisers."
- "Unfortunately when many local media organizations hire their online sales people, they don't worry about making the distinction between 'hunters' (i.e., sales people adept at developing new relationships) and 'farmers' (i.e., account manager types that like to develop long-term customer relationships)."
The advertising field is not devoid of innovation. AdReady offers a service to advertisers that helps them quickly design and place ads without expensive agency help. Mixpo does something similar with video ads. (Those both happen to be Seattle-based companies funded by Madrona Venture Group.) So the toolset is evolving. But how do we get those tools integrated with small- and medium-sized local news Web sites? And how do we tap the thousands of small and medium businesses that are not served, or are underserved, by advertising?
And who out there is my complement on the advertising side?