For Richard Stromberg, owner of Chicago Photography Classes, hyperlocal news sites and blogs have taken the place of traditional print publications. To track the effectiveness of his online ads, he uses print-able coupons that new clients are encouraged to bring to class for discounted rates.
What made you decide to start advertising on The Center Square Journal?
The salesperson came and talked to me; I think she has a part-time job with the online company. I used to advertise with Lerner Newspapers, which doesn’t exist anymore. This website appears to be something that might take over the communication that the Lerner Newspapers used to offer, so I thought I’d try it. I’ve always supported the community; I’ve been in this community since 1969. I’ve probably run the photography program since then. So, when she came by to talk to me, I thought I’d give her a try.
Are your ads on the site as effective as you’d hoped they would be?
It’s only been a couple weeks, so it’s too soon to say. But what I did is I turned our ad into a coupon. So if someone were to print out the coupon, they would get $30 dollars off the first class. The next class starts the second week in September, so I’ll know then if I’m getting any traffic from it. I think offering a coupon is the only way to know [if it’s working], and I have a fair amount of experience.
What other platforms have you used to market your photography business?
Well, the [Chicago] Reader, flyers that we put around, and I guess our website. We wouldn’t be in business without the website. We rank one, two, or three for anyone who searches for “Chicago photography classes.” With [keywords like] “Chicago photo classes” and “photography instruction,” we’re right up there too.
How much of your marketing budget is spent advertising on hyperlocal sites?
We don’t have an advertising budget—we’re not that big of an organization. However, we try things and we’re trying this to see how it goes. I think that anyone that [advertises online] needs to have a coupon or some way that they can tell how many people they are drawing in. We offer a free 90-minute session every Sunday at noon, so I’ll be asking that group every Sunday, “How many of you came through this venue?” So, I’ll get some sense of it them. I’ve been offering that free workshop for two years, so I’ll get some sense [that the ad is working] if all of a sudden the numbers jump up. I’ll know for sure when I see if anyone turns in any coupons. On our website, you’ll also find a coupon. But most people don’t take the time to read it. I know this because I don’t get very many coupons.
As a business owner, what is attractive to you about hyperlocal news sites?
If it’s taking, or going to take, the place of the old Lerner newspapers as a place to get information, then I think I want to be part of it. I don’t know yet if that’s going to happen. It seems that it’s likely to happen, but I just don’t know. I’m willing to try it, because I’ve always been supportive of the community and because the [Center Square Journal] salesperson works for the Lincoln Square Business Association. That was her entree to me to sell me the ad, so I’m giving it a try. And if it’s not effective, then we won’t do it.
You’ve said that The Center Square Journal sends you weekly reports on the impressions and click-through rates on your ad. Do you find that data helpful?
No, I’m not impressed with that. On our website, we have an average of 100 people a day, and they look at five pages and spend five minutes. So, I look at those figures and I get those reports every day from my website and I’m happy. To get people to read five pages and spend five minutes is enormous, and I have statistics on every single thing that’s written there. What [The Center Square Journal has] sent me so far is not impressive. I haven’t seen a jump in my numbers for the daily website. Again, it’ll just take some time to see how that goes. I’m willing to take the risk, to try it out, and if it doesn’t seem viable, then I won’t do it anymore.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.