#LMADigital coverage – A New Yardstick: Executives Discuss Changing Revenue Goals from Massive Reach to Community-Driven Client Success

By Henry Keyser, Medill Media Innovation & Entrepreneurship Specialization 2017 Graduate

At the Tuesday morning keynote at the Local Media Association Digital Revenue Summit, Jason Jedlinski VP Product Management, USA TODAY NETWORK and Tom Sly, VP Digital Revenue, E.W. Scripps Company discussed narrative technologies like augmented reality, OTT, and smart-speakers and what they could mean for the future of media companies.

But their core advice was that media companies return to building communities instead of striving for audiences they don’t know.

“We have let the pursuit of scale damage our brands and community,” said Jedlinski, who leads product at USA TODAY NETWORK.

Sly, head of digital revenue at Scripps, added it’s shameful that “most client advertising agencies know more about our audience than we do.”

Jedlinski and Sly made it clear that building relationships with audiences, and context for the advertisements, convert more than just clicks– it converts actions and leads.

“Change the yardstick. Change the metrics and the goals,” Jedlinski said. “Display media still can perform. Move away from the artificial click through rate that a high-impact rich-media unit may have, and go to post click attribution. Blanket-buys may get you clicks, but not actually customers.”

Jedlinski added that Gannett changed how it incentivised its B2B advertising representatives. Instead of trying to sell advertising inventory, bonuses are now driven by client success.

“We still have to pay the bills,” Sly said. “But shame on us as an industry if we sell a full-page ad that isn’t right for the customer.”

“It amazes me that there are companies that are still saying ‘I gotta go sell print first’ or ‘I gotta go sell TV first and then lets layer on some digital on top of that.’” Sly said. “Wrong. We should always be doing what’s right for the advertiser.”

As Scripps turns 140 years old, Sly said Scripps strategizes a lot about what succeeding looks like for the next 140.

“Faster page views, better UX,” Sly said. “But ultimately, the brands want an audience they can understand, and they understand that audience with data.”

But to focus on advertiser success, media companies need to improve their relationship with the consumer. Both speakers pointed to ways they are throwing out a lot of past practices.

Jedlinsky suggests that to better understand our communities, it’s time to remove friction from the equation. Fewer pop-ups. Fewer irrelevant ads.

“We are taking away what performed for the traditional metrics, and replacing them with better integrated, more polite, often larger advertisements, but done in such a way that they come as a breathe in between two sections of content.”

Jedlinski insists it requires getting away from asking questions like “how do we raise our revenue per thousand pages” and refocusing on audience experience.

He went on to say that Gannett’s goal is to shift revenue priorities from 80 percent subscription and 20 percent advertising, to nearly 50-50.

“I’m eager to see paywalls fall out of favor, because it inhibits our scale for revenue, and audience engagement,” he said. “The carrot and stick approach isn’t going to get us to where we need to go, and [paywalls] are a bad stick.”

But Jedlinsky didn’t disregard monetizing subscribers.

“The number of morning show viewers who feel that the hosts coming into their car and living room each morning are a part of their family — they would pay money to have access to better know this media family,” he said. “Consumer value doesn’t need to be tech, [monetizing] the behind-the-scenes and the insider stuff comes from a place of value.”

Sly drove home that “the people who are spending money on our sites today care about aligning their brand with our brand.” The most valuable data collected is email addresses, and Sly said that customers will align with your brand, and give you their email address, for value. Email addresses anchor a relationship between the media company and the customer.

“Email is 4-to-5 times more valuable than driveby social media traffic,” he said.

And media companies need these relationships quickly. With the introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), European visitors will have an unprecedented ability to file lawsuits against websites in regards to the usage of their data.

”It’s scary. Most of the U.S. isn’t ready for it.” Sly said as he explained that there are opportunist lawyers in the U.K. ready to sue. “Once you have an email address, you can try to get consent to use more of their data.”