Press Releases Emerge as New Ad/Media Channel

Press releases haven’t counted for much. But in the past year, they’ve emerged as a cornerstone of local online marketing via Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and even formed the basis of entire local and vertical sites, such as The Empire Page and yourhub.com.

“Press releases are for customers, not journalists,” said Anne Holland, the leader of Marketing Sherpa, whose eyebrow-raising new SEO study tracked the current role of press releases. In a conference call, Holland noted that local merchants have begun to fully leverage press releases, packing them upfront with SEO-triggering terms and links, and timing them for seasonal search interests.

Another trend involving press releases is their aggregation into mock news sites. The Denver Newspaper Agency’s Yourhub.com, for instance, is now in California,Colorado, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. In Annenberg’s Online Journalism Review, author Tom Grubisch shows how yourhub’s backers are offering a quick-and-easy outlet for community journalism.

McClatchy Takes (Some of) KR

McClatchy won its bid for Knight Ridder. But KR fits into McClatchy’s plans less as a traditional newspaper company, than as part of a long-term transition to direct marketing, with the news playing an increasingly smaller role. The Internet, however, looms ever larger.

McClatchy’s leadership is secure and unsentimental. It doesn’t place a premium on ‘size for size’ sake. Instead, it hopes to re-impress Wall Street with fast growth across multiple channels, including print, the Web, direct mail –and possibly directories.

As The New York Times noted in its coverage, “the average rate of household growth for the dozen papers that McClatchy plans to divest is 4.8 percent for the next five years; for the 20 papers the company would keep, the growth rate is 11.1 percent. Including the 11.9 percent growth rate of the current 12 McClatchy papers, the new company’s papers will have an average household growth rate of 11.4 percent.”

‘Views’ or ‘Calls’? Yelp is Agnostic

Yelp is differentiating itself from InsiderPages, Judy’s Book and other review-based Yellow Pages by giving local advertisers a choice: buying a “calls program” (Pay-Per-Call) or a “view program” (Pay-Per- Click).

CEO Jeremy Stoppelman told The Local Onliner that advertisers want to set a monthly Internet ad budget. It doesn’t matter whether they reach their ceiling via pay-per-call or pay per click, he says – and in any case, many walk-in businesses aren’t judging their advertising ROI based on the phone calls they receive.

Familiarity also plays a factor. In the Bay Area, which is Yelp’s headquarters, many advertisers have already used CitySearch’s pay- per click system, which is three years old. Other sites have found that Pay-Per-Call provides a much higher return, typically in the $4-7 range. But it will be interesting to see whether Yelp sticks to its hybrid program, which seems well-thought out to me.

The Impact of AT&T/BellSouth on YP

AT&T and BellSouth is a $67 billion telecom rollup, but local advertising is involved too. The telcos’ respective Yellow Pages will be impacted by the rollup, as well as their ties with Yahoo, vendors and the Yellow Pages trade associations.

For starters, the deal makes the selloff/spinoff of the Yellow Pages units all-but-inevitable. The telcos needs tens of billions to install fiber-to-the-curb for IPTV, and it has made sense to sell off the YPs to produce some of the revenue. But this seals the deal.

As for side effects of the deal, some fallout is likely at Yahoo. Both companies sell for Yahoo Yellow Pages and Yahoo Local. And in return, Yahoo doesn’t sell against them. But maybe the arrangement has run its course.

PowerOne Media Goes to The Chop Shop

PowerOne Media, formed by the merger of AdOne and PowerAdz in 1999, was poised to be the small papers’ Classified Ventures. But PowerOne Media was beset by tech problems, management problems and tough competition from the likes of Adicio (CareerCast), HarvestInfo, Morris Digital Works and TownNews. It also suffered from the internal conflicts and usual lack of commitment of its owners.

What to do? For the newspaper owners, Option A was to reinvest in PowerOne. Option B was to take it to the chop shop, extracting whatever value it could.

By last summer, it seemed fairly obvious that Option B was the owners’ route. Finally, on Feb.15, PowerOne announced it was selling off its Zwire portal, national advertising, Adquest and Yellow Pages units to TownNews, the small paper vendor that is 83 percent owned by Lee Enterprises.

Hey Jeeves! Should IAC Put CitySearch Under Ask?

Ask Local is a big component of IAC’s relaunch of Ask, and it should be, given the tons of quality local reviews, ratings, listings and other content that IAC’s CitySearch has to provide. Theoretically, it gives Ask a leg up over the other portals – and IAC Head Barry Diller has said as much.

But a question I’d put to the butler is why IAC doesn’t formally put CitySearch under the Ask umbrella. CitySearch, after all, has pretty good traffic from Google, MSN and other affiliates, reaching 14 million unique viewers, according to ComScore. But it isn’t much of a brand, and it is unlikely to spend money to become one.

Probably, CitySearch could benefit from the massive amount of promotion that Ask is about to receive. After all, wasn’t it good when AOL retired Digital City to focus on AOL Local? Wasn’t it good that Yahoo decided to put everything under Yahoo Local instead of building Yahoo Yellow Pages, Yahoo Local Search etc.?