Thursday, July 15, 2010

Deals showcase newspaper marketing clout

This column originally was published in the July edition of Editor & Publisher Magazine and is being reprinted with permission. To subscribe to the magazine so you can see the full array of industry coverage when it first appears in print, click here.

One of the biggest challenges for newspapers in the age of interactive media is proving that their advertising works.

The San Diego Union Tribune seems to have solved that problem in a small, but meaningful, way – and added an extra $100,000 per week to its gross advertising revenues. The idea sounds like a winner for other papers, too.

The U-T jumped on the social-shopping bandwagon, featuring daily deals in print and on its website for everything from restaurants to summer camps.

The deals don’t just offer discounts of 50% or more on gift certificates for products and services. They also encourage readers to enhance their savings by recruiting friends to buy certificates, giving a participant a $10 credit toward her next certificate for every friend she recruits to the network.

Thus, the paper has created a virtuous circle: Readers who love the deals tell friends, who tell friends…and so it goes. Advertisers love not only the immediate, measurable response but also the welcome jolt of cash that flows into their coffers almost overnight. And the newspaper fattens its top line while unequivocally demonstrating its marketing clout to merchants.

Launched in April, the program called Daily Deal got off to “an extremely fast start” at the San Diego paper, said Mike Hodges, the vice president of its interactive division. “In the 2½ years I have been involved in online newspaper sales, this has trumped all other initiatives.”

Hodges freely admits that he cribbed the idea from Groupon, the original social-shopping network. Coming out of nowhere, sales at Groupon were reported to be $100 million in January of 2010, or 100 times better than its performance 12 months earlier. Living Social, an imitator that launched about half a year after Groupon, rapidly caught up. Today the two companies account for approximately 98% of the online group-buying business.

While the success of the online leaders might seem to leave newspapers as marginal participants in the space, remember that publishers have an advantage that online guys don’t: Concentrated local market reach and the biggest, best-connected ad staffs in every town.

Seeing the same opportunity as San Diego, a number of newspapers have begun offering social-buying opportunities, printable coupons or a combination of both. Websites from the Washington Post to the San Francisco Chronicle – and dozens of points in between – promote daily deals.

Jumping in with both feet, the Wilmington (DE) News Journal uses a prominent refer on the front page of its website to send visitors to half-off coupons for restaurants, plumbers, tanning parlors, garage-floor refinishers, day spas and a liposuction clinic. It even offers discount tickets for the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, which is 745 miles away.

Papers like the Omaha World-Herald aren’t in the deal business yet, but they are actively evaluating vendors, according to Pat Lazure, the president of its interactive group.

While many newspapers teamed with one of the established online players to get into the social-shopping business, San Diego decided to create its own brand. “We felt we should own this ourselves,” said Hodges.

After shopping around for a technology vendor, the U-T partnered with Shoutback.Com, an Ohio-based company that provides credit-card clearing and other back-end services that the newspaper didn’t want to reinvent.

Here’s how the program works:

The paper offers deals on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, plus a weekend deal that runs from Friday through Sunday. While the U-T started by offering only a single deal a day, it probably will add a second deal in coming months, said Hodges.

An advertiser pays nothing for the prominent promotion of his offer on the front page of the newspaper, the front page of the website and throughout the website. When the clock strikes midnight at the end of each deal period, the deal expires and the newspaper runs the credit cards of all the customers who have purchased gift certificates. The merchant gets half of the revenue and the newspaper keeps the other half, from which it covers sales commissions and fees to the tech vendor.

Beyond building a nifty revenue stream for itself, the newspaper is building buzz. “Thirty percent of our sales come from referrals from existing customers,” said Hodges, adding that he amassed a database of 15,000 email addresses within two months of launch. Emails tout each new offer.

The project is building excitement among advertisers, too. “We have brought in new ad clients who we previously were not able to attract in print or online,” said Hodges. “The power of our media to generate significant sales in one day shows what we can do.”

Some long-term advertisers even boosted their schedules after trying Daily Deal. “This finally solves the problem of measurability,” said Hodges. “It’s all right there in the open for them to see.”

(c) 2010 Editor & Publisher Magazine


Blogger Howard Owens said...

You don't need a vendor to do this.

The Batavian's "Deal of the Day" program was one of the keys to our early success in attracting advertisers and readers.

12:45 PM  
Blogger James said...

I wouldn't quite say that it "solves the problem of measurability," however, it's certainly a sound model for one option in advertising real estate for clients.

While we wait for technology to accelerate to the point necessary for a complete shift from paper, we are still left with the delicate balance of pampering our paper product's health whil feeding the growth of our online sales.

It is an excellent point that showing an advertising client their actual Return on Investment is useful. I would encourage advertising personnel to invest some time in reading some statistical studies that would allow educated projections to their clients of what their ROI could reasonably be expected to be.

In any case, hats off to this fantastic idea of an online virtual marketplace for the local crowds.

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Clever idea.

7:02 AM  
Blogger enigma said...

As I said about newspapers' need to stop chasing the 'net and start getting more creative about being in the newspaper business...

9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm...people don't like being buttonholed/"worked" by acquaintances selling life insurance but they love being hustled by "friends" (Facebook or otherwise) hawking "50%" coupons to the Tan-tasic?

Hmmm...I wonder how long it will take the Facebook generation to catch on to the fact that Groupon/etc. are not all that far removed from the chain-letters/multi-level-marketing schemes of yore...

6:13 PM  
Blogger Greg Bray said...

Great post! I just got an email from my local paper (Salt Lake Tribune, still not sure how they had my email address) that they will be starting a daily deal this Friday. I'm not a fan of the email delivery method, but I have Woot, Groupon, and a few other daily deals added as extensions to my browser and check them when casually browsing. Been thinking of making a Windows Phone 7 App for some of them too, but not many of them offer affiliate programs or they pay out in credits instead of cash.

6:00 PM  

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