Why Local News Sponsorships Are More Relevant than Ever

How the Local Media Consortium Is Leveraging Its Relationship With Google for Higher CPMs

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Aiming to turn “digital dimes” back into the dollars that used to pour into their newspapers and television stations from ads, locally focused media companies formed the Local Media Consortium in 2014. Aiming for much higher CPM for ad impressions, LMC members partnered with Google, among other entities, to get the benefit of its digital advertising know-how, especially through its DoubleClick ad-server and ad-management subsidiary. The partnership gives consortium members — who now consist of 60-plus media companies with more than 1,600 desktop and mobile platforms — a private exchange powered by Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange, which smooths the aggregation of vast inventory so LMC publishers can capitalize on the scale of their combined reach and audience.

The private exchange connects LMC members — who see their news as premium content — with marketers who want high-quality inventory and are willing to pay for it. Sales occur in the milliseconds of automated programmatic advertising. To see how effectively all this is working, I went to Tobias Bennett, formerly of McClatchy, who is now LMC’s “programmatic advertising champion”:

Programmatic aims to yield higher CPMs for publishers with their premium content. Is this happening for LMC members?
Without question. Our members are garnering CPMs via the LMC Exchange that exceed rates seen from traditional ad networks by as much as 100%​.

What would that higher rate be — in the $2 CPM range, or higher?
Higher, for LMC-branded inventory. I can’t get any more specific.

How does local news — the content that consortium publishers produce — stack up as premium content?
In general, local news content is the most coveted content in the programmatic ecosystem. Whether it be print or video, the level of audience engagement with local news surpasses that of the “click-bait” which makes up a large percentage of the inventory being transacted on. Savvy marketers know this and are providing ever-growing demand for premium content. ​

The Local Media Consortium's Tobias Bennett
The Local Media Consortium’s Tobias Bennett

Which platform works best with programmatic — computer, smartphone or tablet?
Desktop inventory typically generates higher CPMs than smartphone or tablet. There is quite a bit more audience data available for desktop inventory, allowing for more precise targeting. But there is considerable demand in the marketplace for smartphone and tablet inventory. Despite the larger share of screen, the inability to target mobile as finely generates CPMs in the neighborhood of 20% below like-sized ad units served to a computer.

The ability to measure response by reader-consumers at what marketers call the decision points of  “awareness, consideration and intent” is increasingly feasible. To what extent are LMC members getting involved with marketers in mapping the “customer journey” in online purchase, especially in closing ad sales through programmatic?
Direct sales of programmatic deals have proven to be a bit of a challenge to date.  ​Given the fluidity of audience, and the highly targeted nature of these buys, expectation setting on both the advertiser and publisher side has proven to be tricky. Despite the challenges, a number of our publishers continue to pursue these high CPM arrangements on their locally branded inventory. It’s a promising opportunity that requires a bit of maturation on both the buy and sell side to ensure that the promise of programmatic efficiency is honored.

Are LMC members supplying detailed profiles of their users so marketers can pinpoint where readers are in their consumer “journeys?”
We are in process of implementing an LMC-wide data strategy in order to surface this information for purchase by advertisers with the same level of efficiency and scale they’ve come to appreciate with the Exchange. We anticipate that when we can show marketers this data we’ll see significant lift in CPMs and revenue.

Does all this deep data collection and sharing raise any privacy concerns?
Most, if not all, of our members have robust privacy policies. Given the hyperlocal focus of a majority of our publishers, audience trust is our most valuable currency.

What kind of sales are happening for LMC member publishers through the consortium’s partnership with Google-DoubleClick, looking at both the LMC Exchang and the higher-CPM “Preferred Marketing Project” (PMP)?
Thus far, a majority of the revenue flowing through the LMC Exchange​ is coming from the open auction. We’re working to enable an efficient means by which we can introduce PMP deals across the consortium. Advertiser interest in pursuing these arrangements is very high and we’re in conversation with a number of marketers who are eager to structure agreements.

Are Google and DoubleClick delivering what they promised?
The LMC and its membership are very happy with our relationship with Google-DoubleClick. Not only do they bring us top-tier ad technology, they also bring a perspective and knowledge base of all things digital that I think you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. With a number of exciting developments and advances in the pipeline, we are confident in the continuing success of the relationship. ​

Higher-level programmatic emphasizes “moments that matter” framed in stories told in ads, especially video. Are LMC members producing content, especially in video, that fits in with this emphasis?
LMC members are producing vast amounts of video content. Given the hard news bent of our membership, though, the idea of tailoring video to complement specific advertisers is a bit of reach. The focus of most our efforts surrounding video is on providing viewers high-quality content that, first and foremost, aligns with our members’ missions to provide the highest quality journalism in their respective markets. ​What advertisers love about video audiences is their level of engagement with the content. As long as our members continue to provide high-quality, engaging and relevant content, through smart distribution channels, audiences will seek it out, and the advertisers will follow.

We are constantly working with our members to ensure that we’re providing only the highest quality ad inventory. The marketplace’s demand for premium video content far exceeds the inventory available. A majority of our members are able to sell out nearly all of their video inventory on a direct basis, not leaving that much to make its way to programmatic.

How about native advertising and sponsored content via programmatic. What is LMC members’ experience with that?
Most LMC members are utilizing native/sponsored content executions on their sites. Currently, most revenue is generated via direct sales. A general lack of standardization in native executions has hampered the programmatic play so far. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s release of recommended native standards this past February has definitely started the ball rolling, and we’re starting to hear about native-specific platforms being built out, but it will take some for publishers to adapt, implement and scale up. ​

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of hyperlocal news network Local America, and is also working on a book about the history, present and future of Charleston, S.C.