Tag Archives: Mike Hodges

U-T San Diego Pitches ‘Rewards’ as Successor to Deals

The daily deals business isn’t dead, but it isn’t growing either. At this point, they aren’t the anchor for SMB digital solutions that had been hoped. The question is whether more sustainable loyalty and rewards programs – many putting their customers directly into the transaction funnel — will take their place.

Media companies such as Gannett and U-T San Diego are betting that rewards programs will be an answer. U-T San Diego, for instance, began its deals business a few years ago, after President Mike Hodges saw Groupon founder Andrew Mason keynote BIA/Kelsey’s Marketplaces event in San Diego.

It initially did well, and the company bought out Discover SD, another local deals business. But a few years ago, the deals business started to slide as “many local merchants became uncomfortable with the large discounts and heavy revenue sharing,” notes Hodges.

“We had to come up with a product that helped them build new and more importantly repeat customers,” says Hodges. “That is what we have built with U-T Rewards. Merchants love the pay for performance model we have designed. The data we are able to provide them in terms of purchase history, price per visit, repeat purchases, etc. is something local merchants are not used to seeing.”

Hodges adds that the new Rewards program also leverages U-T’s multi-media platform (print, digital, TV). It drives “our subscribers into participating merchant stores. It is a win for all parties.”

Via iPad App, The Reintroduction of UT San Diego (The San Diego Union Tribune)

For newspaper publishers and newspaper readers, iPad apps tend to be nice-to-have but not especially important. Given the choice of rich newspaper apps like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, I actually opt for the browser versions over the apps: I can see a lot more content at one glance; they’re updated more often; and they load faster.

But I’ve found that newspaper apps for “lite” newspapers much better. USA Today’s headline and short story format is perfect for the iPad. The Washington Post (not such a lite paper) has a great iPad app, too.

In early December, The San Diego Union Tribune –a truly lite newspaper but with good local news and features– also launched an iPad app. The result is vastly superior to the print and browser version of the newspaper. More than 11,000 downloads have already taken place.

The UT’s iPad launch coincides with the elevation of digital chief Mike Hodges to president and COO, and today, a rebranding of the newspaper company, which recently changed hands, to UT San Diego. The new name also does away with the dated “Sign On San Diego” city guide moniker.

An announcement on the company’s website notes that “We will now use one company name and logo on all of our media products and communications: U-T San Diego. This change marks a new era in our company’s history. It will help us unify our print and digital products under a single brand with a clear and consistent expectation of quality. SignOnSanDiego.com is now UTSanDiego.com, to match the nameplate of the newspaper and our newly released iPad app.”

Hodges, a digital real estate marketing vet prior to joining Freedom Communications and then The UT, has been responsible for several new revenue initiatives. These include a heavy emphasis on the local daily deal, bolstered by the acquisition of Discover SD, an events guide and deals platform for a younger demographic.

Hodges notes that the iPad app was specifically designed to have an entertainment orientation. “The primary time that people are looking at it is after 6 PM , when people want to lean back after dinner and watch TV. They’re often reading the App as well,” he says.

The App, designed by MindGruve Interactive, is geo-enabled for traffic and Surfline surf reports. It features a FlipBoard-like news page, along with drop down “sections” for easy access.The sections include a full graphic on the Daily Deal – it shows up very well. It also prominently highlights features that were obscured in print and on the website, including arts, photos and videos.

Notably, in an effort to keep it simple, The UT App doesn’t offer newspaper content such as comics, a television programming guide, letters to the editor, user generated content or local news – although Hodges says a major local initiative will launch in early January. Other Phase 2 items will include more in-depth, iPad-only content. It might also include more localized weather (the temperature in the San Diego region varies by as much as 15 degrees from one area to the next).

Much has been made of the iPad’s appeal for advertisers. The charter advertiser for the UT’s free phase is Cadillac. When the App goes to a premium model next quarter after an introductory period, sponsorship will be available for multiple sponsors on a premium basis.

Pricing for the App, however, is still being finalized. When it is introduced during Q1, there is likely to be an a la carte three month subscription for users who just want the App, especially those outside the San Diego area. My guess is it might be priced in the neighborhood of $5 a month. But there will also be bundles for people who want seven day delivery, or three day weekend delivery.

We’ll see whether The UT pulls the trigger on a firewall for the App. Several other publishers have announced plans to charge but haven’t done so.

Deals: #1 Growth Area for San Diego Union Tribune

Deal-a-day group buying is a certain hit. But how important is it in the scheme of things for local media companies? For The San Diego Union Tribune, deals represented “the number one new revenue growth,” in 2010, according to Mike Hodges,VP of Interactive for the newspaper company, who was quoted in a recent UT article by Tamara Chuang.

More than 15 companies actively market deals in the San Diego area, and Hodges told Chuang that the market ought to take in over $40 million in 2011. The UT is apparently grabbing a healthy share of those revenues, with a daily deal email list topping 200,000 readers.

For the UT, however, deals are just part of a broader marketing platform for email opt-in users. Other components include daily member promotions, typically for local resorts or retailers; and weekly deal mails, including deals from two San Diego-area vendors: BuxBack, which gives users money back on their credit card when they support registered merchants; and TipCity, a mobile deals provider for restaurants.

‘Daily Deals’ Galore: Dueling San Diego Media Take on Groupon


The San Diego Union Tribune and the upstart San Diego News Network are launching competing “Daily Deal” products, with Facebook and Twitter accompaniments, and will try to eat into the lead in the local market that has been assumed by Groupon (and Living Social and many others).

The SDUT launches its Groupon-like “Sign on San Diego Daily Deal” tonight at midnight with a special offer to get $50 worth of grub at Acqua Al 2, a chic Italian eatery, for $25 (and actually, just $15 if customers use their $10 deal bucks for signing up or referring a friend). Under rules of the promotion, 50 people need to sign up for it within a 24 hour period. Six people signed up for the deal within the first hour.

The SDUT’s Daily Deal sits on a platform provided by Click-N-Shout, a Cleveland-based company – one of apparently 155 rivals, per Groupon — that is testing the waters for newspapers with the SDUT. The newspaper’s sales forces have been offering the Daily Deal as part of their portfolio for a few weeks, and there is roughly a month’s worth of inventory in the system now.

Site GM Mike Hodges notes that The Daily Deal is hardly entering virgin territory. Roughly eighty percent of its advertising prospects have been approached by Groupon or other Deal-a -Day services. But the newspaper believes it has many advantages over the competition, including the ability to promote The Daily Deal on the right hand corner of the cover of every print issue; and a database of 90,000 “special offer” email subscribers.

Hodges believes The Daily Deal will prove complementary to other special email offers that have long been provided by the newspaper, and notes that it is possible that many users will get a daily deal and special offer in the same day. Newspaper advertisers are being approached first.

Meanwhile, The San Diego News Network, the flagship of the fledging U.S. Local News Network hyperlocal network chain, is launching its own, similarly titled “Daily Deal” next Monday, April 12. Built to custom specs by Deal Current, a local San Diego software company run by Jimmy Hendricks, the site has sold out its first month of inventory with local companies such as Hairspray salon, Vagabond Kitchen, Extreme Pizza, The Comedy Store, Cookies by Design, Cupcake Love and All American Grill.

Company President Chris Jennewein says he believes that “very competitive” pricing – presumably more favorable than the 35 percent-50 percent of coupon value assessed by Groupon – will make a difference. It is also important “to have a sales executive from a local company that you can trust rather than a telemarketer,” he says.