March 23, 2010 Last Updated 2:51 pm

Important questions to ask your advertisers before making the leap to tablet publishing

Surfing around the web this morning for subject ideas I went to Judy Sims’s TypePad blog. A recent post concerns the questions you should ask advertisers before building your web site. I think even she would admit that asking these questions now is, well, a little late in the game for most publishers . But her post was targeted at “news entrepreneurs”. (My site, was targeted at this group, but the lack of news and traffic told me it was too early to sustain a vibrant site for that audience.)

I thought her post was especially timely knowing that many publishers are looking to launch their first mobile applications and are looking at tablet publishing for the first time.

I like a lot of Sims’s questions — ones like Question 2: Who are your customers? or Question 3: Who are your competitors? or Question 9:  What would you do if you were me? These are great.

One question, Question 7: How do you want to be serviced?, needs I think to be rephrased, to say the least.

Her favorite is Question 10: What would be the dumbest thing I could do in your eyes? I like this, too.

My favorite question to ask a client in any advertising situation is always If you could land just one new customer, who would that be?  I like asking this because it accomplishes a couple of things: first, it points out exactly who they are after, then you can match it up to your audience data and proving that your product is reaching that target; second, it might reveal a market you were not aware of, or were downplaying — for instance, government.

How often do publishers treat new product launches in the mobile media space as, well, new product launches? Most publishers see their iPhone apps as simply a product extension, simply a way to get their content in front of more eyes. Bad move. Each move into a new medium is a new launch. If you think of your new iPhone app as nothing more than an extension of your newspaper or magazine that is what it will be — merely an extension, not a new revenue channel.

I wrote a few days ago about a publisher that launched an iPhone app for his magazine as a single sponsored product. This was smart for two reasons: first, it forced the publisher to have at least one good conversation with a client before launching the app; and second, it made it easy to justify the launch — “see, it’s paid for” the publisher could say.

Now, however, many publishers are looking to launch iPad applications, to make their first forays into tablet publishing. How many publishers are discussing their iPad plans with the advertisers (let alone their ad staffs)? If history is any indication, many publishers have delegated the job of launching a tablet app to their web or IT teams.

What questions would you ask a customer when leading a discussion about tablet publishing?

I would start with exploring the customers knowledge of mobile media itself — though indirectly. For instance, can I see your cell phone? This tells you a lot, doesn’t it?  If the customer pulls out an old dumb phone the conversation may turn out to be completely informational. That is, you presenting your plans and explaining why mobile media is so important. But if the customer pulls out an iPhone or a brand new Android phone the last thing you want to do is insult the intelligence of your client. Instead I’d ask them what apps do you like to use? Do you read a newspaper or magazine with the device? Watch videos or listen to streaming music like Pandora?

I’d want to know how long they have been using the device and whether they enjoy it. Now you know if  you are talking to a true believer, a novice, or a skeptic.

Back in 1996, which was the Stone Age of web advertising, I started to talk to my ad reps about selling online advertising. Just like now, the acceptance of the concept of web advertising, among the reps, was a generational thing. One of my reps, who handled many of our most important accounts, was not enthusiastic about talking about our web plans at all. I told him don’t worry about it. Then, I lined up a call with our most important client, Caterpillar. We flew up to see the client and eventually took the client to lunch.  At lunch I casually mentioned our web initiatives. We almost didn’t make it out of the restaurant: the client, it turned out, was just put in charge of their division’s first web efforts — he was an enthusiastic believer in the Internet and loved the fact that we were moving forward.

My ad rep’s jaw dropped open as the client and I spoke at length about the Internet.  When the call was over, and as we were heading back to the airport, my rep couldn’t believe how well things had gone. I said “see, you’ve just had the best Internet call, so far”. My rep then asked “but many clients just aren’t that interested right now, what if he hadn’t been so enthusiastic?” My answer was to cut it short and move on. Early adopters are always enthusiastic, but the majority of clients need to brought along slowly.

I don’t see why the same thing won’t apply to tablet publishing: there will be a very small minority of clients ready to embrace your new tablet product, but the majority will simply want to see it when it goes live.

In addition to exploring their own mobile knowledge I would also ask about their reading habits. Some customers are concerned about the lack of time people now spend on print — a perfect way to transition the conversation to mobile.

No publisher who wants to monetize their tablet products through advertising should launch their tablet app without advertising.
Most magazine launches involves a prototype issue. Published in the Fall, the purpose of the issue is to show potential advertisers the design and editorial direction of the magazine. Advertisers don’t need to be shown the issue to demonstrate what a magazine is. But with tablet publishing, especially in the local media and trade publishing segments, the vast majority of advertisers will have a wait-and-see approach.

Who shows up in those prototype issues? Often they are filled with ad pages from important, market leading accounts. The ads are often free, or sold in some discounted fashion.

No publisher who wants to monetize their tablet products through advertising should launch their tablet app without advertising. It amazes me how many iPhone apps are out there without advertising (when they intend to sell the advertising in the future).

(My biggest disappointment with the iPad magazine demos so far is that they appear to have been produced in a vacuum, without input from ad agencies.)

This was the same mistake that publishers made with their first web sites — either no ads at all, or the ads were given away. I don’t have a problem populating a new web site with free ads, but these ads should be given away to a very small group of advertisers, and then no other free ads should be given away after launch — no more “value-added” web ads. Once a price has reached zero it rarely rises. something paywall advocates may be discovering soon.

(Even this site launched with ads, though the AdSense ads eventually proved contextually irrelevant to the subject of the site.)

Where do you get your first ads? Well, depending on the segment involved, I would go after clients represented by interactive agencies. But local media and trade publishers are going to be in a bind for a while as their clients gear up for the new medium. The answer may lie in finding the first good ads developed for the medium and making a pitch to use them. For instance, no doubt consumer products will be the first advertised in the tablet format. But a consumer product like cell carriers do translate to local and B2B — for instance, Sprint. The point is that by limited the number of free ads early on a publisher can not poison the well, so to speak.

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