Newspaper Sites Boost Political Advertising

Online political advertising remains high on the agenda of newspapers, with separate seminars held this week by The Washington Post and The San Diego Union Tribune’s SignOn San Diego. The Washington Post seminar was coordinated with The Laredo Group as part of a sales training effort, while the San Diego event was put on by The E-Voter Institute (which I serve as an advisor).

At the San Diego event, Tacoda leader Dave Morgan touted the incredible addressability of online sites via issue-based targeting; life stage targeting; message segmentation; re-targeting and the ability to combine ad campaigns with demographic targeting, thanks to newspaper registration efforts. Through New York Times Direct, he marveled, “The New York Times sold people who are particular to particular columnists,” such as Republican moderate David Brooks or Liberal Paul Krugman.

But the political consultants, ad agencies, and vendors gathered at the San Diego meeting didn’t seem convinced that tele-democracy has arrived – except for fundraising and communications. UCSD Professor Thad Kousser, for instance, joked that “you should raise all your money on the Internet, and spend it all on direct mail.”

Cox, Landmark Trade Vertical Holdings

Cox Enterprises and Landmark Communications have traded shares in their jointly-owned online and offline properties. The trade allows each of the media giants to focus on specific verticals: Cox with autos, under the “Cox AutoTrader” brand; and Landmark with real estate, recruitment, automotive services, boats and RVs.

The trade is a significant one, and will result in real changes in how the businesses are conducted. For instance, with sole control over its destiny, and a maturation of the marketplace, Cox will end its long-time policy of separating online and offline sales. Previously, the only bundled operations between Auto Trader.com and the offline publications have been residential For Sale By Owner listings in several markets.

Cox is also likely to fold in Manheim Auctions, the largest wholesale marketplace for used cars. It may also offer a package of all its online and offline auto services to local media partners, including newspapers, TV, radio and cable.

Yahoo News Focuses on Local

Yahoo has re-envisioned and enlarged its local news service. The new service, which has over 400 content sources in 82 markets, reflects the ease of RSS feeds, and Yahoo’s long-term desire to better engage local media companies. While still unbranded, it basically replaces a local tab that had hosted content from 32 markets, including Knight Ridder and Tribune properties.

In its current beta form, the new local news service grabs multiple headlines from each source via RSS; runs article summaries; and segregates content by media outlet. Many of the featured markets have eight or more media outlets. So far, these include newspapers, TV stations and radio stations.

Project director Elizabeth Osder, a 15 year veteran of interactive journalism, says she hopes the content offerings become even more granular, perhaps to the level of high school newspapers. At the same time, she says a key focus is to become a better partner of the major media outlets in every city. “We’re looking at ways to highlight local media. We need (outlets like) The Cleveland Plain Dealer to continue to be important in Cleveland.” The differentiator here, she emphasizes, is Yahoo’s ability to leverage RSS and personalization.

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.