Broadstreet’s Mission: Liberate Sites for What Matters Most

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BroadstreetServing ads can be a big pain for the entrepreneurial publisher of a small community site.

Three likely headaches: 1.) An ad should be running, but isn’t, and you don’t know why it isn’t;  2.) the server is over-extended, which, cumulatively, slows down user speed; 3.) the “basic” concepts are as challenging as learning Sanskrit.

Broadstreet Ads’ mission is to make the pain go away. Then, says Broadstreet co-founder Kenny Katzgrau, the publisher can focus on important things like revenue generation, improving editorial content, and enhancing audience engagement.

Here’s what one Broadstreet customer, Howard Owens, founder of The Batavian in upstate New York, says: “We switched to Broadstreet after our OpenX server was hacked. It was a major disaster for us with users getting viruses through our ads. We spent five days fixing the security vulnerabilities only to get the malware injected again. Finally, we gave up and took our ad server offline for three or four days while converting to Broadstreet. I can’t say enough good things about how great they’ve been to work with.”

I went to Katzgrau with these questions:

What can Broadstreet do, specifically, to make a difference to its client sites?
At its core, Broadstreet is an ad server, somewhat similar to OpenX or Google DFP. But we’ve tailored it specifically to the needs of independent local publishers by building several products around the ad server. The first product is “Editable Ads.” This is a special ad format where the content within an advertisement can be updated by an advertiser as often as they’d like.  The copy is update-able via cell phone, Twitter or Facebook.

Imagine a real estate agent who has an ad on a local news site. That agent can post a picture of a property they’re selling along with the details of the house to Facebook or Twitter, or an MLS feed. Our system will pull in that data and regenerate the ad to display the house and property info without any involvement form the publisher. The click rates are typically 2 to 3 times a site’s average click rate. Advertisers love it, users start to notice ads again, and the publisher can charge more for it or simply attract new advertisers with functionality that no one else is offering.

Our second product is a peer-to-peer ad sales network. The independent publishing community is strong and growing — and most importantly, publishers know each other and stick together. With our network, they can run an ad on their website along with anyone else in their network. This way, publishers can benefit by grouping together to attract advertisers who would otherwise think the audience of a single local news site is too small. Think politicians, regional advertisers like car dealerships, etc. It’s a big opportunity that is mostly untapped.

Local ads have a higher click-through rate than national ads. How does Broadstreet exploit that difference for its customers’ advantage?
First of all, authentic hyperlocal news organizations generally have a loyal, trusting audience. Readers may know the publisher personally. The sites enjoy high engagement, commentary, and a tight-knit community. Advertisers on local news sites often deal directly with the publisher, not an ad sales rep. And readers often already know of the advertisers whose ads are appearing on the news website. This creates a close, personal environment where advertising is both unobtrusive and trusted. Then you toss in something like editable ads, where advertisers are updating their ads daily or even hourly, and you have an extremely relevant local business contributing to the conversation. Ads become informational — practically part of the site’s content. The click-through rates hit 1% or 2% in some cases.

Just a note, we believe it’s incredibly hard to engage readers with national brands. Who has ever really had any impulse to click into an ad for Ford, Chevy, or a Procter&Gamble brand? Broadstreet recognizes that these two fields of digital advertising are different, and there are big advantages in exploiting that.

How can your ad server and other features help a one-community site grow into a cluster?
There are quite a few successful hyperlocals that have started out as a lone site, but have branched and created a network. Think Patch, but organic. Our ad server accounts can be set up as a hierarchy to accommodate the growth of an organization. You have individual ad serving accounts for each publication, and then an overall administrative account that can manage each publication.

The simplest example would be Baristanet and its offshoot, Barista Kids. They are treated as separate publications, but managed as a small network. The largest example would be Hulafrog, which is nearing 50 publications in its network.

You and your partner John Crepezzi have strong tech backgrounds you at Yahoo!, Crepezzi at Patch. How is that a special strength for what Broadstreet offers?
Broadstreet is a technology company, and not a media company. We look at local news publishing as a burgeoning frontier with its own set of real problems that can be solved by technologists like us. We think the news industry is in desperate need of companies like Broadstreet to help it through the print-to-digital transition.

How about case studies?
Red Bank Green, Broadstreet’s first customer, has upsold several of its biggest customers by 100% or more by using editable ads. They’re also in the process of upselling customers on ads in neighboring publications using the network.  Genesee Sun (another early customer) has raked in over $20,000 more per year since it began selling editable ads. Being able to offer something compelling in one’s market when no one else can is going to help win a lot of ad sales.

Our advertising network lets a single publisher act as a mini-agency and sell across a group of publishers. Running for a Senate seat in New Jersey? It might make sense to approach a publisher like Red Bank Green, who can place an ad on 30+ high-quality, trusted news websites in the state. Make it an editable ad, an seamlessly update your message across the entire network.

A peer-to-peer local advertising network helps small publishers focus on their niche while benefitting as if they had a much larger coverage area. We think it’s the path to long-term sustainability of the industry.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is partnering with InstantAtlas to develop sites that will present how communities rate in livability. Local America is featured on the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Pivot Point site.