Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Community newspapers can boost budgets by creating in-house digital marketing agencies

The Rural Blog rarely deals with the business side of newspapers, but when an innovative idea, supported by research and real-world experience, offers the opportunity to produce revenue to support newsgathering, we take note.

Small daily newspapers (and perhaps larger weeklies) can create new revenue through digital marketing, says a study by a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. "Despite an increased array of marketing options and a desire by small business owners to invest in new advertising tactics, about 38 percent of these businesses have not invested in any form of digital or online marketing for their businesses."

The News Reporter, a twice-weekly, Pulitzer-Prize-winning newspaper in Whiteville, N.C., with a print circulation of 10,000, "was an early pioneer in the digital space, establishing a robust website and social media presence that connects with thousands of loyal users on a daily basis," reports UNC. But the paper, which serves one of the poorest counties in North Carolina, "struggled to increase digital advertising revenue to compensate for the loss of print advertising revenue."

JoAnn Sciarrino, Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing at UNC-Chapel Hill, said community newspapers, even weeklies, can easily and cost effectively take a page from metro papers by "establishing in-house digital advertising agencies that provide a range of services—such as website design and search engine optimization—to its local advertisers," UNC reports.

Sciarrino helped set up a digital-marketing agency at The News Reporter, which has a four-person advertising staff. The paper's strategy is based on five areas: Adopt a digital-first mindset; delete print-only rates from published rate cards and align commission structure; create an 'everyone sells digital' culture; offer influential prospective customers limited pro-bono services; and develop sales reps into sales consultants.

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