Comcast Rolling Out a New Local Ad Service

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For local businesses looking for advertising, there’ll be a new kid in town to help this summer. Better still, ad buyers will get the help for free. The service, called Stratasphere, is a new offering from Comcast-owned Strata, which already has three decades in the business of connecting ad sellers with ad buyers.

Street Fight recently spoke with David Prager, SVP of strategy and new business development at Strata, to get the skinny on the new offering and his insights on marketing best practices.

With Strata, you’re planning to offer B2B solutions for advertisers and inventory providers. What exactly does that mean?
Strata sits on both sides of the people that buy and sell advertising. On the buy side, there are people who buy the ads. We provide the software that helps the buyers do research and that helps them buy the ads. And we have software that helps the people who sell the ads and helps them execute the sale of the ads.

How do you help advertisers maximize their ROI?
Strata has been around for 30 years. The core business is ad agencies. We provide the software to look at the performance of the ads. If they buy 30 seconds on NBC’s “The Voice” then we have software that lets them look at the data. Strata has 1,200 ad agencies, and most of those clients are buying local and regional advertising.

Tell us about Strata’s new offering.
We have something new we are doing using all the infrastructure of Strata, plus new capabilities for communicating between local TV/radio and local advertisers. It’s [web-based software that] helps them to buy and sell and to reach each other.

Today there is a huge amount of business between local salespeople and local advertisers. The local salespeople spend a lot of time visiting local merchants. There is a lot of local business done where they don’t need ad agencies.

We have been piloting the new product in Utica, N.Y., and Tucson, Ariz., and this summer we are having the official nationwide release. We are bringing online tools that will allow the local salespeople to improve their customer service. We have a set of services to let local sellers and local buyers do business with each other.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen hyperlocal marketers make when trying to promote their brands?
There aren’t many best practices that are generally published and available. It’s challenging to come up with a simple answer. There is a huge variety of need.

For example, there is a big, big difference for a diner in downtown San Francisco wanting to advertise locally, as opposed to a diner in the middle of Nebraska. The ad opportunities available are going to be very different. That’s just if you are a diner.

Clearly, if you are an auto dealer, the types of vehicle you are trying to sell in Fort Worth and San Diego — and the people you are trying to reach — are different.

There are some age-old marketing practices that people go to school to learn. You need to know who you are trying to reach, their characteristics, and why you are trying to reach them. Then you look at the media opportunities available that are affordable.

It can mean looking for truly local media that may make a difference. There are different options available. You need to be sure what your audiences is, what your metrics for success are, and be realistic.

For instance, if you are a pizza parlor in Tennessee or Brooklyn and your measure is to increase the number of pies you sell by 10% on a weekend. And you do some ads and you sell 20% more, then you are doing pretty well. You don’t need to be more sophisticated than that.

Explain a little about the service and its pricing.
We are offering a Stratasphere subscription to TV and radio stations. So, the sell-side is paying for the opportunity to get closer to their customers. For the local advertiser there is no cost.

If the advertisers want access to other markets [outside their local area] there is a small fee to advertisers.

There are several ways the tools can be used. For instance, the advertiser can look at rate cards, and customized rate cards, for radio stations that are available to them. Or the local advertiser can send an RFP saying “I am willing to advertise next week, and this is my budget. How many ads can I get?”

Then using the software, the advertiser can work out what to do based on the replies of the radio stations.

Do the tools require training?
We have designed this thing for the local guys and we know they are not going to get trained. We have specifically assumed that they won’t want to get access to rating services [such as Nielsen.] So the information they get [on their audiences] will be what the stations provide to them.

Simon Constable is a Street Fight contributor. He has written about business and economics for a wide variety of publications. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.