In a round of navel inspection at Local Media Association's Digital Revenue Summit, local media leaders from print and television shared what keeps them up at night.
One theme was clear: The profitability of digital products and services is top of mind.
Edwin Ruis, Integrated Revenue Director, Swift communications, which owns 40 publications in six states, says he did not realise the extent of the problem until he read a report, The Big Disconnect in Local Media.
“I realized I had to take a look at profitability. I see a lack of interest in our (more profitable) ONO products,” he said.
What else does he worry about? How to create a better customer experience.
“I want our external customer to feel like they do when they buy an iPhone. You don´t want to go online, you want to go to the store and feel Apple,” he said. There are no manuals for this, but we can learn from companies like Disney and Apple, to move away from the space where everyone is selling the same thing.”
Chris Edwards, president of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and its agency FusionFarm, agrees that profitability is a key issue and that automation is part of the answer.
“We have to be asking what is the most efficient way we can sell what is perceived as a commodity. We have got to come up with a better mousetrap and defrictionalize the process,” he said.
When not worried about profitability, Edwards said he also worries about the skyrocketing price of newsprint and how to create editorial valuable enough for more customers to pay and for them to pay more..
Stephanie Slagle, Director of Digital, at WBNS TV, said her company already ceded the lower end of the market - digital sales in the $500 a month range - to focus on the more profitable sales, in the $75,000 to $100,000 a year range, selling native video to clients.
“We are blown away by how much people are spending (on video= with large agencies. It is a great sales conversation to have with the client. It makes sense that they would have their stories told by (the local television station),” she said.
“It sounds like we only want the big money. But that is not what we are saying. What we are saying is that the small money does not work. Those people who think digital is a $500 thing are not spending enough. It is not something you do if you cannot afford radio.”
What Slagle worries about most is creating a excellent user experience for the audience, while also providing value to the advertisers who want intrusive ads that interrupt the user experience and slow the website.
“Users are annoyed by the way we give them our content, so we have to do something different… and we also have to monetise. It is a push and pull and it is something I´m freaked out about.”
During the Q&A others in the room were asked to share their concerns.
On man stood up and said, “Google is so good that it seems the only thing to do is become resellers. How does that work long term for us. How do we compete and stand up on our own.”
Another mentioned “A term I heard from Gordon (Borrell), relentless incrementality. That sums up people real life in industry. We spend so much time staying flat. What is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and finally causes people at the top of the company them to do things differently.”
A last executive chimed in that “We have to help change the narrative that we are out of touch with our neighborhoods. Lets act like endangered animals. Our fight instinct needs to kick in.”
Meanwhile part of the answer to autmoatiion and profitability may be at hand.
Even as the executives shared their concerns, at a vendor table across the hall iPublishMedia, a provider of self service advertising platforms, demonstrated a new DIY advertisng product for SMBs.
The platform pulls content directly in from a small business listing on Google maps, to populate digital ad bundles with automated posting to print, digital, Facebook, and eventually email.
In the new DIY advertising world, local media staff in sales, production and fullfilment, may only lightly touch whole categories of small advertisers who provide profitable margins for the first time.