Advertisers, Agencies Force Chicago Indy Ad Network to Regroup

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The 15-site Chicago Independent Advertising Network has discovered it’s just not big enough. How many more partners does it need? “Dozens upon dozens,” says chief organizer Mike Fourcher, founder and publisher of Brown Line Media, which consists of three, soon to be four, North Side neighborhood digital publications.

The ad network launched last November with what it thought was a formidable inventory of “more than 1 million impressions” from the group’s hyperlocal and citywide member sites.

“We got some ads placed,” Fourcher said.  But the ultimate verdict of advertisers and ad agencies, he said, was “that in a market like Chicago, 1 million impressions is just not enough.”

Fourcher says the agencies and advertisers asked: “How about 5 million impressions?” They also told him they didn’t like the $12 CPM the network was charging. “This was a surprise to us,” Fourcher said. “We thought we were special, but they said we were not special enough.”

“We’ve decided to change our approach,” he said.  “Agencies and advertisers want to hit special demographics, like males 35 to 55, and we need to offer them a variety. And we’re going to work on expanding the network. We need dozens upon dozens” of new partners.

Fourcher said the demographic-focused approach is similar to what happens on cable TV. “You buy a little bit of CNN, a little bit of Lifetime, a little bit of USA Network, and put it all together.”

To put together more impressions, Fourcher said the network will reach out not only to independent news sites — like his Brown Line Media — but also digital sites in general, including those operated by Chicago radio stations. Some radio stations deliver big numbers in Web traffic and impressions.

But if and when the Chicago Independent Ad Network expands its reach, it will stay focused on landing ads from small- and medium-sized Chicago businesses: “Take Harris Bank,” Fourcher said.  It’s not as big as Citibank, but we’d love to have it.”  Harris Bank has 650 branches in Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest and assets of $93.5 billion.

The ad network received $50,000 in start-up funding from the Chicago Community Trust. Fourcher said the network is holding conversations with the trust on additional funding, but has made no formal application for more financing.

He described the network as being in a “state of growth,” noting that there are more members than when it started.

Tom Grubisich writes the New News column, which appears on Thursdays on Street Fight.