Chicago Indie Ad Network Goes for the Big Bucks

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Fifteen of Chicago’s most successful local independent publishers have launched a citywide advertising network, aimed at targeting the city’s most influential citizens. Announced last week at Block by Block’s community news summit, the Chicago Independent Advertising Network will distribute ads to leading windy city indies like the Chicago News Cooperative, Center Square Journal, and Windy Citizen.

Modeled on the Deck Ad Network, which targets “creative, web and designed” oriented-sites, the Chicago network will offer up five ad blocks monthly, with each promising 200,000 impressions across participating sites.

“The groundwork was originally built by Chicago Community Trust which has done a lot to try to encourage independent news in Chicago,” says the network’s business director Mike Fourcher. “The concept of an ad network came up in a discussion almost a year ago, so I agreed to head it up, and the Trust put money down to fund the start-up.”

Built on a platform provided by OpenX, Fourcher says the technological component to the network was relatively straightforward: “What is complicated, is ensuring that there is a value proposition for the publishers and the advertisers.”

The network’s pitch to advertisers is slightly different from the standard proximity proposition of most hyperlocal sites — namely an added emphasis on the psychographic of the readership. “The people who are reading our sites are not the typical Chicagoan — these are people who are much more involved with what goes in their government, much more involved in their communities, and generally much more interested in what goes on around them,” explains Fourcher, a veteran of Chicago’s local media scene.

Fourcher says the network has already seen a lot of interest from companies looking to introduce new products and services in the Chicago area, particularly those trying to make a splash in the “early adopter” crowd.

An ecosystem of citywide independent ad networks could be a serious threat to nationally scaled businesses like Patch in going after local ad dollars. As Fourcher points out, the technology needed to build a network is relatively inexpensive, and with indies recently showing interest in forming regional partnerships, the value proposition is attractive for both independent publishers and local businesses. For regional and national brands however, a fragmented and low-tech ecosystem of regional advertising networks offers much less value.

Fourcher is a sharp critic of Patch. In May, he wrote an editorial in Business Insider, which derided Patch’s model: “I don’t see why [national brands] would be interested in a geographic premium. They want to hit a broad spectrum. That’s why they advertise in the LA Times.”

With a single-form ad product like the 300 x 250 pixel image, which the Chicago network plans to use, the value of geo-targeted advertising for national brands is questionable. The standard banner ad fails to harness the context of intent – location’s core asset.

Driving the hyperlocal space is the increased ability to close the purchase loop. As a metric, impressions will always favor scale, but the handful of local marketing products emerging today, allows advertisers to do exponentially more to facilitate a transaction.

Fourcher is correct in questioning why Talbot’s or Albertson’s would consider a geographic premium in a branding campaign. But what if Talbot’s could connect a consumer with their neighborhood Talbot’s location rather than its national brand? And what if they could do this at scale?

As readers increasingly consume content on location-aware devices, and location becomes baked into more and more of what we consume, the potential value of a hyperlocal audience increases immensely. But without the appropriate vehicle to convert the raw asset into real value, much is lost in translation.


Top independent hyperlocal publishers will be sharing their business strategies and insights at the Street Fight Summit this month in New York. Buy your ticket today!