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Nine strategies that doubled online display revenues at Fort Myers News-press.com in 2010

Alisa Cromer

Site:  News-Press.com, the site of Fort Myers (FL) News-Press Media Group owned by Gannett Co. Inc.

Traffic:  600,000 Unique visitors, 12 million page views

Sell through rate: 60 to 80%

Online sales as a percentage of revenues: 12%

Key Executive: Brian Hellman, Digital Advertising Manager, News-press Media Group

Summary:At the Gannett-owned Fort Myers News-Press, 12% of revenues comes from online, but  80% of this still came from classifieds leaving much room for growth in online retail revenues.  Since implementing full scale online training, display ad sales have doubled and The News-Press has achieved a 60% sell-though rate."

When (sales representatives) walk out of the building, they need to be able to talk — conversationally — about share of voice, impressions, click-throughs, interactivity and stickiness. If you don’t have this, you are going to be left behind, " says Hellman. Here are the ten components of the digital sales strategy:

1. Train, train, train: Corporate sponsored "digital university" 

News-Press executives attend Gannett Digital University’s 2.0 training for frontline retail managers; local managers then customize the corporate material into full-day courses for their newspapers.

2. Lead with online 
Not just lip service, reps learn to ask, "What's your online strategy?" in every initial conversation with an advertiser.  

3. Blitz early and often
The Blinder Group was hired to create sales packages and train the News-Press team for a sales blitz. Hellman says they continue using those techniques “intertwined with ours.”

4. Embed specialists
Online specialists are key to the News-Press approach.  Five specialists, who report directly to the head of interactive,  work with sales people on calls and proposals. They are embedded in sales teams for in-the-field training, attend weekly individual “gap analysis” meetings between managers and sales reps to look at client history and suggest products to energize the account. Specialists do not own accounts. At weekly sales meetings, they spend at least 15 minutes on digital topics such as how to create a short-term campaign for a sales event, or how to create a custom proposal.

5.  Maximize site revenues with “Share of voice” model 

The News-Press scrapped its product-driven rate card and has adopted a share-of-voice model, traditionally used by broadcast. This system (see pricing and packaging) limits the number of ads and divides the audience is broken into five to 10 "shares," which are sold individually in packages or combined with other products.

6. Create Good Better Best Packages
The News-Press packages its audiences by ZIP code and area of site, such as the home page or Sports. In the past, news-press.com sold fixed sponsorships for key channels or locations, but as traffic grew some advertisers were getting a much larger audience than they had paid for. “Sponsorships broke down when we reached 10 million page views,” Hellman said. Pricing for 10,000 in a targeted niche is around $20 CPM, moving to $12 for general buys in the 40,000 to 50,000 range, and dropping to  $10 CPM for buys of 500,000; usually home page or significant share of key demographics. Prices  are baked into packages.

7. Customize packages for individual clients using targeting

Since News-Press.com is not part of the Yahoo Consortium, it targets by ZIP code/gender/age using Zag’s pop-up boxes, software that creates a widget to collect this basic data before the visitor can read the article. Visitors whose data has been collected are targeted using this information.

8. Optimize campaigns based on conversions

Not only does the News-Press.com offer targeted audiences, it reviews  campaigns to identify audiences with the highest conversion rates.. and then tightens the focus. More significant targets also command a higher rate, typically 20%.  Here's an example of one successful campaign for a large home builder.

9. Leverage relationships by supporting  a variety of products

Multiple products support the model. In addition to targeted display - and like Chron.com, and PalmBeachPost.com - Gannett's sales teams can sell a variety of products and services that customers may need. These include SEM packages of 100 "guaranteed clicks",  site optimizaiton using a partnership with Orange Soda, and "coupon blasts," through which customers are emailed coupons. 

Conclusion: A high level of training, followed up with full time specialists working with teams in the field has successfully gotten the sales team on the track to selling digital. One thing we like about this approach is a simple strategy of asking about digital on every call - and having a product line to provide a variety of products customers are looking for. News-Press Media Group, along with Palm Beach Post and Houston Chronicle, is one of the large newspaper groups that has  made significant inroads in transforming the sales culture. 

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.

brian hellman, gannett, fort myers, news-press.com