LMA members building new revenue pillars for digital

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The USA's Local Media Association has a membership of 3000 newspapers and president Nancy Lane says there are almost as many ideas on how to build digital revenue.

With two members from contrasting backgrounds, she cited examples of approaches used by members to Ifra Expo DCX conference in Berlin last month.

She says digital marketing services are very important to US companies, aloing with a big resurgence of focus on events - "the easiest to go after, but you have to hire an expert" - and while we now live in a video-first world, "there is no revenue in it".

Among examples of publishers building revenue pillars, she cited:

-The Boston Globe, which now has 86,000 digital subscribers, and is aiming for 200,000 in two years using an aggressive hard paywall model of US $350 annually. "They are planning for the day when digital and print advertising are both zero and digital subscriptions provide the revenue," she said;

-The Dallas Morning News, which also sees its future with digital subscriptions;

-Spirited Media, which has three digital-only news sites. Finding that digital alone is not sustainable, it now achieves 65 per cent of revenue from events, VIP experiences, memberships and merchandise;

-McClatchy is a leader in video lab projects, doubling down and partnering with Google to create good video, but Lane says only reputable media companies can do it, "and no-one can monetise it";

-Gannett is betting big on VR, passive and interactive, experimenting with Alexa and Google Home, and chatbot technology but finds it hard to make a Revenue model. Flagship USA Today is using Facebook Instant Articles. and making a success of it, she said;

LMA board member Peter Newton is chief revenue officer of Gatehouse Media, which he said is the largest publisher of newspapers in the US, operating in 555 markets in 36 states. "We are growing organically year on year, through acquisition of newspapers including recently the Columbus Dispatch, business and trade journals and digital companies, and have an annual revenue base of US$1.4billion.

"It is all about digital, B2B and marketing services, digital subscriptions, live events and promotions, and now we have added services for local businesses, called UpCurve, which has huge growth opportunities and the potential to grow organically off our existing businesses."

Newton said the publisher asked local business, "what are your pain points and how can we help", doing so with services including with law, business and IT.

"We also promote ThriveHive - I love the name - building digital solutions for mid-to-small local businesses, and offer digital marketing and website building, plus managing social media for very small businesses - those with a very long tail - and right now, we are investing in a consumer data warehouse."

Print and digital properties have also undergone a redesign by Garcia Media, with the number of advertisements reduced to boost readability of programmatic ads by 60 per cent.

"We want to be the audience expert for all our local markets," Newton said. "Talking more to our consumers is serving to boost digital and print subscriptions and has really paid off for us, doubling revenue year on year."

The publisher is also launching 'best of' platforms, engaging audience through Facebook and putting on local events.

"Having consumers engage with our brand and local brands helps us to expand into super regional coverage, to reach close to 20 per cent of the US."

By contrast, the Victoria Advocate in Texas is a much smaller operation, "serving 176,000 people and twice as many cows". Publisher and LMA board member Dan Easton (pictured) - who is vice president marketing of Roberts Media - talked about making everything easy for consumers. He joined the company from roles in the software industry and as a chemical engineer, and said, "it is vital to track your performance to the local economy.

"Daily deadlines are very challenging when seeking time to innovate. Digital disruption is chaos for a company like ours and we have found that online advertising has overtaken offline advertising."

Easton said the company has kept print and online separate by launching Advocate Digital Media with the goal of not only controlling the whole digital marketing budget but also offering a full service agency with a strong creative team.

"The whole point is simplification for customers, but it is a constant struggle to stay focussed on the strategy. We have to compete with start-ups and have to have separate specialists, to some extent," he said.

"Basically the publishing model is broken and we all need to solve it and its problems."

Maggie Coleman

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