Eighteen media executives embarked in April on a cross-country journey to tour top-performing local online operations. What they found was a remarkable pattern that every local media company should stop and examine. I highly recommend the one-hour webinar that summarizes those findings. You’ll find the link at the bottom of this posting.
What qualified these operations as top performers wasn’t what you typically hear from speakers at conferences: cool projects that drove spikes in web traffic or innovative ways of using Twitter. They got right to the nuts and bolts: The money. The “Innovation Mission” executives studied the underlying strategies for sales and content that drive these companies to vastly outpace the industry in revenue growth.
The coast-to-coast tour had them visiting a mix of TV, newspaper and pure-play Internet companies in the U.S. and Canada. The most common characteristics they found:
- An obsession with training on both the sales and content sides
- Traditional-media reps successfully selling digital products (with some exceptions)
- Digital-only salespeople delivering the most revenue growth
- Compensation & bonus plans that are critical to achieving goals
- Vast networks of community content contributors
Before I go on, I wanted to clarify statements I’ve been expressing for the past decade about what types of operations drive the most revenues. I have an unfair advantage in this observation because Borrell Associates maintains a revenue/expense database of more than 4,800 local online operations in the U.S. and Canada. I can literally see the top performers – those making as much as 10 times more than their peers. And I know what they’re doing differently.
The clarification involves my adamant belief that online-only reps are a necessity for local media companies that want to be top performers. Somewhere in that admonition people have heard, “Traditional media reps can’t sell online advertising.” Not true. Traditional reps should be employed to sell digital products to the greatest extent possible. That’s Job 1 for any radio, TV, yellow pages or newspaper company with a valuable on-the-street sales force. But if a company relies exclusively on these reps, they’ll wind up being exactly average in terms of revenue performance. And who wants to be average? Remember – I’m looking at those with exponentially more revenues. And those companies – like the ones on the tour – are adding digital-only reps at a rapid clip.
At one of the stops on the tour, the manager said 70% of digital sales came from traditional (TV) reps in 2009, and that he anticipated it would be down to 45% this year. The greatest growth, obviously, is coming from the digital-only staff. And you can bet those reps are building a new customer base while the TV reps are relying heavily on existing customers.
Among the stops were hyperlocal pure-play company Examiner.com in San Francisco; KSL-TV and Deseret News in Salt Lake City; Dow Jones Local Media Group; Journal Register Co.; and Metroland Media in Toronto. It was sponsored by Suburban Newspapers of America, one of the few trade associations in the country that looks outside its membership when trying to provide expertise about what’s going on with the Internet.
I highly recommend this webinar. The association has made it available for non-members at a cost of $79. You can access it by clicking here.