local media insider

Gannett: Avoid six key mobile mistakes

Learn what not to do from Jason Fulmines

Alisa Cromer
Better execution increases revenues: Cap exclusive sponsorship traffic, allow manual story changes, promote continuously.

These lessons from the field in executing mobile revenue strategies have been contributed by Jason Fulmines, director of Mobile Products at Gannett. Included are six key mistakes mobile managers make and how to avoid them. Many thanks to Fulmines for sharing mobile expertise that comes from deep local experience.

#1 "Setting and forgetting" a straight feed
Fullmines says the first big mistake publishers make is to assume that apps will survive without on-going attention from editors. Just like online pages, mobile pages need attention and can't exist on feeds alone.

“(Editors) can keep it on life support, but it will not have a life of its own.”

Straight news feeds that cannot be over-written by an editor are part of the problem. Auto-feeds work 95% of the time, but the other five percent can show results that are downright ridiculous.

While most of Gannett's properties are local, one example Fulmines gave is the U.S.A. today’s mobile news app, which had “a fairly sophisticated screen-scrape feed” that recieved the same stories at the same time as the web site. But that didn’t account for cases in which an important story dominated the news cycle and needed to be manually kept at the top of the mobile site.

So on January 15, 2010, the day Denny’s announced a free breakfast,  a plane crash landed in the Hudson River. Because of the automated story feed order, headlines like "All passengers saved?" appeared just below the giant Denny's logo and breakfast offer. Ouch.

“Have a plan for things like that," Fulmines said. "You need the ability to make modifications to mobile stories on the fly if you have to." It doesn't happen often, but a few times a year is more than too much.

#2 Signing-up exclusive sponsorships

On the business side a the common strategy of selling exclusive sponsorships to launch an app can also become problematic. The trouble with this strategy, Fulmines says, is that successful apps - and browser channels - often see double digit “hockey stick growth” month over month.

So an exclusive sponsorship that is initially heralded as a home run, say, an $18,000 contract at $1500 a month for an app with 100,000 page views, only starts out with a $15 CPM.

By the end of the year, however, when the app or browser has 250,000 page views and the effective CPM has fallen to $6, it is difficult to get this same advertiser to pay three times as much, or share the app with other accounts at the same price. 

In addition, due to the “set it and forget it” nature of exclusive sponsorships, the copy also often does not change, so the ads and offers quickly grow stale (a 25% Share Of Voice for any one ad is usually better for long-term campaign and avoids the campaign response falling off too quickly).

Avoid these pitfall by requiring multiple ads from the same client AND having more than one sponsor.  Or limiting the exlusive sponsorship to a particular traffic level, which if exceeded over-rides the exclusivity clause.

#3. If you build it, they will come...and stay

The flurry report Fulmines looks at shows an overall downward tapering for mobile apps of 40% after a few months and dropping off to 5% in six months. News apps don't have such a large fall off, "but it is a reality. You can't just have a big launch."

Even for national brands, the best promotion is always in the App store. "If you do a good job of promotions out of the box, it will organically bubble up...but its also a chicken and egg thing."

Local apps survive long-term primarily on promotions on the core site, but also "... across every platform and every spot you've got. We still have to do it for USA today and for all our local products, bigger and smaller."

The lesson here is that apps need an enormous amount of on-going local promotion built into a promotional plan that integrates with the variety of other digital initiatives. The site plan - and app plan - needs to accomodate all the promotional positions needed.

4. Only focusing on downloads
While a new supply of downloads is critical, Fulmines says that publishers tend to overuse the download number as the key metric, when repeat visits are what really drive traffic for sponsors. With hundreds of apps on some phones, only the top few get used frequently.

So while download statistics are the key revenue metric for paid apps, for news sites repeat visits is the most important metric - it is the  combination of downloads and repeat visits that determines traffic. Even 50% returning once a month is a good number that drives value for advertisers and sponsors.

Once the app is built, the new question is  what will keep it sticky and keep users coming back. Managers should track engagement as an equally vital measure of the app's performance.

5. Not expecting bugs

Unlike other platforms, apps often are tested “live” in the app store and can easily get a bad reputation that is hard to overcome simply from bugs in the program.

One example was a Gannett app that yielded unfortunate comments like “just crashed” and “epic fail” in the Apple store. The issue turned out to be the clock setting on international downloads, a tiny segment of the market that baffled the programmers and almost sank the launch strategy.

Do have as large a base of people to test the app before it goes live in the real world. But expect that, as in the case above, "you don't notice things happening until theire is a much bigger group using it" and be prepared to spend time fixing bugs.

"It's just the nature of apps. Most app devleopers will do a major release, followed up a week or two later with a bug fix."

6. Overlooking the browser

"Some (small) newspapers have an app because they want an app, but they should have a really good mobile web experience first."

Given the advent of HTML5, an increasing number of functions will be built into browsers, and since 50% of all searches are on mobile phones, the browser continues to be critical.

"You may not have to build an app if the things that you want to accomplish you can do in a browser." News and weather for example, are things that "could have just as good an experience in the browser over time." The app then becomes primarily a issue of faster accessibility.

Examples of apps that have a future include huge sports apps that have a highly engaged audience with a preference for "instant" scores. "They have such huge traffic, data and content, that past a certain point you are opening up the mobile web site into the app."

Games are also particularily well-suited to apps. But the lesson here is not to avoid launching news and weather apps, but continue to improve the browser experience to maximize both channels based on user preference.

"Always remember that the browser is the leading app. You may have 40 apps and use only 4 or 5 a day. One of is always safari, its the first app you think of."

Many thanks to Jason Fullmines for sharing his expertise and experience at Gannett with our members, and to NAA's MediaXChange where Fulmines presented this information.

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

mobile, jason fullmines, gannett, naa, apps, games


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