Self-serve advertising platforms can provide a wealth of benefits for hyperlocal publishers who are tasked with juggling multiple roles within their organizations. At the Bay Area News Group, a publisher of small and mid-sized papers around San Francisco, community information manager Elizabeth Naughton says using Wave2 Media‘s self-serve platform has given her sales team more “breathing room,” which allows them to spend more time meeting advertisers and making social calls to customers. As a result, Naughton says advertisers have begun running larger ads and BANG has been able to generate more revenue.
I know you’ve been using Wave2 for a while at Bay Area News Group. Can you tell me a little about how that partnership got started?
Actually, our retail department had been using it for at least a year before we did. We had been using it for a while for retail — [where it was] not resoundingly successful — and we were looking around for something where we could do self-serve obituaries, or we call them “e-obits.” [Wave2] is a very good product, so we just decided to go with that.
Do you just use it for the obituaries or do you use it for anything else?
We’re still using it for retail and we’re using it for real estate; for open home guides. [As community information manager] for Bay Area News Group (and that’s Mercury News, Contra Costa Times Group, and the Oakland Tribune Group) I manage obituaries and legal advertizing.
Why is it important to have a self-serve option for obituaries?
The obituary process is kind of complex. When someone places an obituary, we send back a proof, they have to approve the proof, and we need to get it back in time for our deadline. This really simplifies it. [Our team] had to provide the quote to the families, so there were always delays. With self-serve, they can actually do the obituary with the family right there. So if we’ve got a lot going on and we’re a little bit slow, they don’t have to worry about it. [They can] cut us out in terms of the communication and they can just go ahead and place it directly. Immediate quotes — I mean, that says it all. [Families] also have the ability to manipulate [their obituaries]. They can make corrections or changes right there without having to go through the proofing process again.
Are families using the platform completely on their own, or do you have a team that offers some guidance?
We have an obituary planner, but what I did was I tried to push the obituaries back to the funeral homes. We had over 50% of the obituaries coming in directly from families, and what I was trying to do was shift that back over to the funeral homes, because they’re the experts. They do a really good job, they’re excellent proofers, and they know the families, so they can work with them fairly well — maybe a little bit better than we can, although we work very well with them. So it just seemed like a good solution, and they absolutely love it. The obituaries that they place are bigger than the ones that they placed directly through us.
How about with the real estate section? Can you describe a little bit about how that works with the self-serve option?
I don’t manage that group, but I do believe they have a huge percentage of their open home guides — [which are] directory listings of the homes that are open, say on Saturday or Sunday — coming through [the Wave2 platform]. I believe they have the bulk of theirs coming through electronically now, which is the same thing. There’s flexibility in terms of deadline. The advertisers can scan their own photos and put them on. It’s almost easier than coming through us.
What challenges have you had, either in getting set up or using the Wave2 platform?
There have been a few challenges with getting set up, but not with Wave2. They’ve been mostly on our side. We had to get the templates just right, and so we had a few bumps in the road there. But I have to say, I’ve been here 30 years and I have been through a ton of installs, and this one probably was one of the smoothest. And the roll out to the customer — because it’s very intuitive and it’s a very common sense program, the training of the customers has been really easy.
Are advertisers or families relying less on your staff now that you’re offering a self-serve solution?
Yes, they are. It has saved us time, and it’s given us a little bit more breathing room. And again, it’s generated more revenue for us because the obituaries that come through, the e-obits, are bigger. They’re larger and they say more, so they cost more.
Does the platform limit you in any way, in terms of what you can do with your customers?
There are a few limitations, but we’ve been really lucky to be able to work around them. And there’s some compromises that we made which haven’t really had too much of an affect. To be honest with you, I really cannot complain about this. It’s a good product; the staff works well with us. We’ve had very few issues with it at all. It’s very easy for the customers to use. Once we get them live, there’s probably a couple weeks of little help calls, and then it just goes away. Then I find that I’m making more social calls on the customers — seeing how they’re doing and how they like things. So, it’s really good.
Are you planning on rolling out any more self-serve options in the near future?
Well we already have the retail piece, which would be for small businesses. For some reason, that one just hasn’t taken off. I think it’s because of promotion on our side. It’s certainly still an easy product to use. I’m about to roll out funeral home advertising, where they can actually go on and have the choice of placing an obituary or placing an order for their own funeral home to advertise on the obit page. So, that will roll out hopefully within the next week or so.
Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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