Big Brands and Hyperlocal Sites: A Matchmaker Gives the Lowdown

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Size matters when national advertisers look at hyperlocal sites, but not that much.

That’s what I got from a phone talk with Bryan Quinn, vice president of publisher strategy & operations at Cox Digital Solutions. CDS — the combination of Cox acquisition Adify and Cox Cross Media in January 2011 – is the middleman between advertisers as big as Walmart and Target and their agencies and local digital sites of all varieties. Its goal is to help advertisers find the “passionate local user whoever that might be.”

Quinn works with old-media (local digital sites created by newspapers and TV and radio stations) and new media (news and entertainment pure plays created by entrepreneurial independents and corporate networks). While he’d like a site, whatever its species, to be able to deliver a minimum of half a million ad impressions, he stresses: “We have 3,000 sites we have relationships with. For our criteria, editorial is very important. Does it engage the user? We can’t read every article, but we do look at a site and determine if it’s ‘brand safe’” – no pornography or radical political messages. “Beyond that, what can the site do to help us execute a particular campaign?”

In urban areas, the number of pageviews and unique visitors is more important. “If someone comes to us with a million ad impressions, that’s the kind of partner we want,” Quinn says. “We have a bunch of relationships at different size levels. A half million ad impressions does limit relationships.” But he said smaller sites — say, those with about 10,000 UVs a month — could be part of the pools of sites he helps put together for national advertisers, especially those who are targeting specific groups of consumers (e.g., demographically, behaviorally).

“We’re sitting down with the Obama and Romney camps,” he says. “They tell us which areas they want to go in in these [battleground states], so we want to be sure we have relationships there.”

Right now, Quinn says Cox Digital Solutions is looking at placing political ads in communities in battleground states: “We’re sitting down with the Obama and Romney camps,” he says. “They tell us which areas they want to go in in these [battleground states], so we want to be sure we have relationships there.”

While independent sites in some markets have formed networks to offer stronger reach and more ad impressions, Quinn says: “We go both ways – with networks and independents with strong content. In smaller markets, the expectations for reach are not as high.”

CDS works closely with well-established old-media companies which own newspapers and radio and TV stations in Top 50 markets that have gone digital in the local space. Those companies include Cox Enterprises – which owns CDS – and Belo. Still, Quinn said, “we’re working with independent sites in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and other major markets.”

Regarding editorial, he said “a high-quality product with user engagement allows the site to grow its audience faster and to attract advertisers.” But, he stressed, the challenge is “creating enough quality content that can be scaled.”

How does a site go about seeking to work with Cox Digital Solutions? “It’s a two-way street,” he said. “A site can come to us or we can go to them.”

Like leaders at ad networks and agencies (here and here) Quinn says there’s an unmistakable migration of national advertisers to local digital space. At CDS, he said, “We’re seeing more and more demand.”

Cox Digital Solutions also contracts with sites to build technology platforms that handle “ad serving, campaign targeting, optimization, tracking and reporting. We enable advanced targeting, including contextual, behavioral, demographic and geographic.”  Adify — which became part of Cox Digital Solutions — built the technology platform used by Sacramento Press and the Sacramento Local Online Ad Network (SLOAN) that SacPress co-founded. SacPress COO Ben Ilfeld has described the technology platform as “best in class.”

A hyperlocal site seeking national ads too avidly could wind up in a wrong-end-of-the-telescope search for revenue. But there are matches to be made, and matchmaker Bryan Quinn shows how they can be made.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is developing a Web site to rank communities on their livability across 20-plus categories. The rankings will be dynamic, going up and down daily as they are updated through a combination of open data, journalism and feedback from local experts and users of the site.


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