Journalists generally keep the voices of the ad-side of the news business out of their sad reports
Reports on efforts at digital-first initiatives rarely, if ever, include quotes from the ad teams tasked with making digital advertising grow
The stories of layoffs at metro newspapers continue non-stop with the four newspaper group in New Jersey owned by Advance Publications announcing that more than 300 positions have been eliminated this week. Reporters and others will now work for a newly created company which will replace the old one, a little gimmick that means long time employees will technically have to reapply for their old positions, while many of those positions are eliminated.
Through it all is the idea that digital advertising will increase enough over the next few years to turn around there situation at the newspaper group. The report this morning in The Star Ledger estimates that the paper “was on track to lose $19 million this year.”
As is typically the case, those asked about digital advertising are not the ad people tasked with driving advertising. Rick Edmonds, who does excellent work at the Poynter Institute, comments on the subject, as does Matt Kraner, the former chief marketing officer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
What is missing, of course, is any comment from anyone in advertising.
It is a common theme today: meetings are held, stories are written, and invisible through it all is the voice of the ad department. Sure, in the background, there ARE meetings with advertising. But you won’t hear much about them. Yet whenever the discussion of the fate of newspapers is discussed the decline of print advertising is usually pointed to as at least partially, if not solely, to blame.
One also won’t hear the voices of ad professionals on the web, either, as most do not want to go on the record with their opinions. The old Gannett Blog was one place voices could be heard, though always anonymously.
In my own recent conversations with ad execs in the newspaper business, I have heard first that there is, indeed, a bigger emphasis on digital advertising. But in the trenches, the same sales quota system often works against such efforts – why sell an online ad when your quota demands concentrating on those few quarter page print ads that are available to sell.
A talk a year or ago with one of the Midwest daily newspapers showed that the paper was making an effort to push digital to local advertisers through the creation of a new rate card that offered endless buying variation. I said the rate card reminded me of Advo, the Connecticut marriage mail company bought in 2006 by Valassis Communications. (The rep had never heard of Advo, but complained that the rate card was so complicated that they never sent it out to customers.)
The second theme that is common in conversations is that the ad teams are usually presented with new strategies as a fait accompli – rarely is there much input into the strategy, and increasingly any input is seen as negativity. No one wants to say that the emperor has no clothes because the emperor is still the emperor. “If we tell management that the retailers won’t buy the new program we seen as old-timers unwilling to change with the times,” one ad manager told me recently.
So, over the next couple weeks I will reach out to some of the newspapers seen as doing innovative things in digital advertising, let’s see if they will talk – hopefully, on the record. I’m sure there are good, interesting things happening in the newspaper business, right? Let’s hear their voices.