Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Learn to sell local advertising again: take a lesson from Google; why free can be very, very profitable.

Free. It's very hard to compete with free.

I thought about this when I took a quick glance at this morning's Chicago Tribune sports section. One paid ad. That's it. One. And for a hair replacement center at that. No auto advertising. No tires, no auto parts, no events, nada. Just one ad . . . a tenth of a page, at best.

Things were a little better online as the sports section had some medium rectangle ads, a leaderboard. But over at the local news sections, under Chicago Breaking News Center, nothing but Google ads (were these all coming from Outside.In, or is the medium rectangle ad outside the local news window the responsibility of the Trib? See my interview with Outside.in here.)

It is almost as if the art of ad sales, and local ad sales in particular has been lost. Ad prices in a metro daily are so high that many reps and their managers wonder if it is worth the effort anymore.  So what can you do when you have priced yourself out of the market? Create cheaper products? Sell online only?

One way to look at the problem is to see it from Google's perspective. Want to introduce (or in the case of newspapers, reintroduce) the concept of local advertising? Then start with free.

Google is not going to hire thousands of local ad reps, so they are at a distinct disadvantage -- until you start to think like Google.  The first thing one needs to sell is data, the more the better. In Google's Local Business Center, local businesses can get free listings, free updates, free insights. Free is good, remember.

It takes only a few minutes to get your business added to Google Maps.

For Google it all starts with getting the customer on their maps, and in their system. It takes a business approximately three to five minutes to complete the simple form that tells Google where your are located, your contact information, and what kind of business you are. Then, with this information now in-house, you can become an AdWords customer, a mobile advertising customer, or any kind of advertising customer Google can dream up.

Sadly, many newspapers (most?) are still organized along traditional sales lines: retail, classified, national. Some have dedicated online sales staffs. But this is sales based on data collection and utilization.

With newspapers going mobile, building iPad platform products, it is time to reconsider what kinds of advertising one wants to sell. Can one sell lots of banners ads onto a phone? Not likely. But directory advertising, location based advertising, these are the types of advertising that can work on mobile.

Tomorrow: sell small.

Below: a video explaining Google's Local Business Center.