The Patch layoffs today are actually a very good thing. Layoffs are always sad for the people affected. But in this case, this is an indication that the management at Patch is getting a better handle on what hyperlocal must look like in order to succeed. While I am not bullish on hyperlocal networks and national chains, I am even less bullish on hyperlocal networks with significant management layers. In fact, here’s my map for the highest chance of success national hyperlocal network — and my quick turnaround program for Patch.
1) Collapse editorial and advertising at the local level. Reporters and editors sell ads. Salespeople report. Heresy, right? Well, there is a long history of publishers and editors wearing the same set of shoes in small town publications. In small places, you simply can’t separate the two effectively. By doubling up duties, this would effectively spread coverage more widely for editorial while also enabling better advertising outreach. Granted, care must be taken regarding conflicts of interest. But frankly, in a small town, does any paper run truly objective restaurant reviews? Or slam the high school musical? The most important news is related to local politics and that can remain relatively inviolate.
2) Get rid of everyone at the regional and national editorial level. You do not need regional editors. Period. They get in the way. Let the local shops run their own business their own way. Save a skeleton team (maybe 2 or 3) to collate and curate the best of the best from all the Patch local blogs. Put that in a national edition, primarily for syndication and social media purposes. Then call it a day. Truly, at the hyperlocal level, layers are a hindrance not a help. Every meeting called by a regional editor is valuable time wasted when a gumshoe local reporter/ad rep could be pounding pavement, meeting community members. The thing Patch front-liners have least of is time — so get rid of anything that does not add value and costs time.
3) Staff up on national ad sales. This may seem counter-intuitive, but my sense is that Patch has not fully realized the network-wide potential of its traffic. When I say ad sales, take the term loosely. As much as possible, this should not be straight ad sales but more what folks are calling “social inclusion” — ways to integrate useful sponsor content or UGC related to sponsor products into the editorial product. Granted, this must be very clearly marked as such. And yes, there is the risk of turning the whole product into a parody of itself. But Patch has a direct link to Main Street of anytown USA. That is valuable, but it needs to be properly addressed, cultivated, marketed and sold.
4) Hire Jonah Peretti. Okay, it’s too late for that. But Patch has enormous viral potential. Funny things happen in small towns. Sad things happen in small towns. Just plain wierd things happen in small towns. Patch’s upper management gets it. But I have yet to see a smart hire or integrated plan to drive virality. Perhaps a partnership deal with BuzzFeed might actually be just the ticket!
Will this be enough to drive Patch to profitability? I have no idea. But I think it could help. What’s more, these steps will play up the one true value that Patch can bring to the table — differentiated, quality local content that can be both long-tail and short-tail. It’s a rare critter and one that ideally should be pampered, showcased, and nurtured.
Alex Salkever is an executive at a cloud computing company and a former technology editor of BusinessWeek.com. The views expressed in his column are his own and not those of his employer. His Personal Fight column appears every Wednesday on Street Fight.