Why Local News Sponsorships Are More Relevant than Ever

As Brands Look Closer, Is Local News the Tortoise and Facebook the Hare?

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I read with special interest my Street Fight colleague Stephanie Miles’ recent case study on the new Kitewheel report, “The State of the Customer Journey,” which found that advertisers are getting much more selective about data for tracking that vaunted journey.

Looking for more precise measurements about the much-analyzed customer experience, advertisers are shifting their focus to “owned” channels, like chatbots and interactions on their webpages, and away from “organic” (i.e., non-promoted) social media, the longtime favorite.

Could this trend benefit local news publishers, who have watched pretty much helplessly throughout this decade as their advertisers, right down to the neighborhood level, forsook them for Facebook?

In this Q&A, Kitewheel CEO Mark Smith says his company’s new report indicates local news is positioned for a much different future.

Local news publishers have had their fill of bleak news about their performance against other competitors in the digital space. Is your new Kitewheel report a better story for them?

Definitely. Local publishers, like any other consumer-oriented brand, care about engaging their audiences and understanding as much about them as possible in order to deliver a superior product and experience, as well as offer some of those insights to advertisers.

I think the main benefit that publishers can take away from our report is deeper insight into how forward-thinking brands are engaging with their audiences. It’s about a holistic approach to the entire customer experience across digital and physical channels—understanding what customers want, and how they want to get it, and then setting up channels of communication that make everything easy.

How should local publishers make their case to brands? Do they need to integrate the “customer journey” more fully into their “funnel” marketing strategy?

The essence of the customer journey is a deep understanding of customer behavior across a variety of channels and touchpoints. This kind of deep understanding—beyond the basics like demographic information—is what brands are increasingly demanding from the partners they work with. Then, with the insight from listening to customers’ journeys, intelligent brands can begin to move the needle on customer behavior by taking an omnichannel approach.

So, to the extent that the journey can give more insight into customer behavior and shape customer communications, publishers should definitely consider integrating it into their strategies.

What about customer profiles—do local news providers have to present a fuller picture of their audiences to brands to compete more effectively with what Facebook in particular provides?

Yes, absolutely. An interesting thing is that Facebook has been a leader for so long [that] it’s become oversaturated on the buy side, and prices are going way up. There’s an opportunity for other vendors who can provide similarly granular audience information to seize some of that market share.

You are seeing this right now with podcasts, print, and other more “traditional” forms of media taking a lot of ad dollars from the types of direct-to-consumer brands that have long been almost exclusively loyal to Facebook.

At the same time, Facebook has long been an important partner for news organizations in terms of driving traffic and new subscribers, so the landscape may shift back towards more symbiotic relationships in which Facebook provides the audience targeting and publishers provide content in exchange for traffic.

Facebook’s subscriber data, especially information culled from “likes,” has become so valuable in targeting ads. How can local news publishers compete with that?

A Facebook “like” is a strong intent signal. It gives Facebook and its advertisers another indication of what types of messages might appeal to a given user, which powers the social network’s very strong targeting capabilities. ​​Facebook is also currently coping with a decline in trust—from both advertisers and consumers—which also plays to news organizations’ advantage, given their trust-based relationship with audiences.

This puts publishers in a position to leverage their own intent signals to compete with Facebook. ​News publishers can match or at least come close ​just by identifying, and leveraging for advertising purposes, the intent signals that they have access to on their platforms. A few that come to mind for a given news reader would be article history, content shares,​ comments on articles,​ preferred device for reading, and any history of engagement with paid content or ads. There are plenty of others, I’m sure​​.

Facebook and Google together now capture 99% of the growth in advertising revenue, according to Digital Content Next data. Do the findings of the Kitewheel report suggest that trend could be bent downward—if local news improves its engagement with its audiences and shows brands how it’s doing that? 

Yes, it can be bent downward, if local news organizations adopt customer journey strategies. As I mentioned before, we’re already seeing direct-to-consumer brands migrating away from the big platforms because they’re too saturated.

There is a major opportunity for any organization with an audience, including local publishers, to invest in deeper audience insights that drive more interest from potential advertisers.

The new Nielsen Media Lab survey commissioned by NewsCorp finds users see a more positive relationship between news and advertising than with other publisher categories like sports, travel, entertainment, food, and fashion/beauty. Does this correlate with the Kitewheel findings?

A key message of our report is that deeper insights into consumer behavior drive better outcomes, and I think many publishers have taken this to heart over the past few years. Our own research shows that decisioning on the adtech channel (for optimizing the delivery and targeting of ads) is growing rapidly, ​​​so it’s not a huge surprise that the Nielsen study found purchase intent rising in all publisher categories, with news being the leader. Ads are getting better and more relevant​​.​

News publishers are in a particularly advantageous position because in many cases they have built trust-based relationships with their audiences. An extension of that trust would be only running ads and offers that resonate with, and provide value to, their audiences. Saturating pages with irrelevant and annoying ads has the exact opposite effect, so it’s good to see that more publishers appear to be taking viewability concerns to heart.

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.