Photo: “Newsstand” by Nicolas Nova, via Flickr.

Small publishers have 10 advertising advantages over large pubs — and here’s how to capitalize on them

Don’t play the big publisher’s game if you’re not a big publisher

Joe Amditis
7 min readApr 16, 2018

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It’s no secret that the digital advertising game has become an increasingly competitive and seemingly hopeless one.

Digital giants like Facebook and Google have secured a virtual duopoly when it comes to digital ads and content marketing. At the same time, ads themselves have become increasingly standardized and, well, stale. The barrier to entry for the digital advertising world has become so low, and the competition for eyeballs so intense, that digital ad prices are lower than ever before.

Luckily, all is not lost — at least not for small and hyperlocal publishers.

The folks over at Broadstreet (a New Jersey-based advertising company) recently published the report, “Ten Advantages: How magazine and hyperlocal news publishers will win in the era of Google and Facebook.” In it, Broadstreet founder and CEO Kenny Katzgrau breaks down the major weaknesses of large publishers — and the corresponding strengths of small publishers — when it comes to the world of digital advertising.

In this post, I’ll give a brief summary of the major points and conclusions found in Broadstreet’s report.

But first, let’s define our terms.

From page 13 the report, “Ten Advantages: How Magazines and Hyperlocal News Publishers Will Win in the Era of Facebook and Google” by Broadstreet.

What qualifies as a small or hyperlocal publisher?

Broadstreet defines a small publisher as “hyperlocal news, city and regional magazines, and niche publications like trade journals — anybody with a narrowly defined audience which precludes it from the ‘scale’ of big media companies.”

One of the most important factors in the success of a small publisher, especially when it comes to securing a sustainable source of revenue, is its relationship with the audience. The actual size of the organization or the coverage area for a publication is less relevant to this definition than the size and intimacy of the audience.

The report considers small publishers to be those that have a close, engaged relationship with the community they serve. Small publishers, according to the report, “tend to be more recognizable within the audiences and communities they serve.”

Value is the name of the game

The Broadstreet report identifies ten advantages that small publishers have over large ones when it comes to the digital advertising game. But before we get to the actual advantages themselves, it’s important to remember that, according to the report, “the name of the game is value.”

Value is the most important thing you can bring to the table. It may sound obvious or cliché, but doesn’t make it any less true. Remember, advertisers today have a lot of options.

The key is to “show the advertiser something so compelling that they’re forced to recognize the value.” Banner ads and other traditional display formats just aren’t cutting it anymore, especially for smaller publishers. Anyone can make a banner display ad, and the value of those ads have plummeted as a result.

With that in mind, here are the ten advantages of small publishers outlined in the report:

1. Community support and affinity

Your relationship with your community remains one of your best and most valuable assets. The kind of intimate and engaged relationships that can exist between smaller publishers and members of their community is often incredibly difficult to replicate on a larger or national level. As Broadstreet puts it, “it’s the power of human relationships that spurs brand affinity.”

2. The direct relationship

Smaller publishers often have direct relationships with their clients, allowing them to meet in person and build a more personal connection. The same cannot be said about Facebook and Google. A big part of the value that smaller publishers can provide to prospective clients is the fact that they are actual human beings who can be reached via phone or in person, without having to deal with the Kafkaesque world of call waiting and hold times.

3. Autonomy, flexibility, and creativity (compelling creatives)

Creative, which is what the ad industry calls the actual ads, are the public face of both your operation and your client’s. The ability to adapt and tweak the ads you show on your site to fit the needs and subtleties of your client’s business is a key factor when it comes to demonstrating that your publication is different from the rest.

This section of Broadstreet’s report is a meaty one. I won’t be able to replicate or do it justice here, so you’ll have to check out the full report. Suffice it to say, this is where small publishers can really dig deep and show their clients that they truly understand them and their business — as well as the people who will see their ads.

4. Section and page sponsorships

According to the report, one of the most-requested features from Broadstreet’s customers was the ability to sponsor specific sections. Allowing a client to occupy all of the available ad units on a particular page is something that can’t be replicated by an ad network. The value inherent in this kind of package is self-evident.

5. Sponsored content

Sponsored content is not a new or particularly innovative concept by contemporary standards. Still, when done correctly and tactfully, sponsored content can provide value to both your client and your readers. Smaller outlets can draw on the various advantages listed above — direct relationships, flexibility, creativity, etc. — to help them go the extra mile when it comes to serving both the client and the community’s needs via sponsored content.

6. Smart, flexible and understandable pricing

The standard pricing model for digital ads tends to focus on the thousand-view mark. As such, many small publishers feel the need to use that benchmark to sell their online inventory. Broadstreet, on the other hand, says small publishers’s revenue “should be built on blocks that you have determined — it should not be determined by the whims of Silicon Valley giants.”

Consistency is key, and flat-rate pricing is recommended. A CPM-based model can add uncertainty to your monthly bottom line — especially if Google decides to tweak its search results without warning or notification. Having flat rates for your publication can save time and prevent a lot of headaches and confusion down the road.

7. Newsletter sponsorships

Advertisers love newsletters for two reasons: they can drive traffic and they contain valuable ad inventory. They can be automated or scheduled to go out without too much extra effort or commitment from the publisher. They’re also one of the more intimate forms of digital communication. “Advertisers love being in an inbox,” says Broadstreet. They love using your email lists for marketing purposes.

Publishers can leverage this value in several ways, including selling newsletter space as a standalone product or packaging newsletter space with display ads.

8. Transparent reporting

Running an ad on Google or Facebook is a notoriously opaque process. What little information you do get from the tech giants often amounts to little more than the bare minimum. Then there’s the bot problem that continues to plague social media platforms and networks. Small publishers, on the other hand, don’t have a reputation as mysterious black boxes that the Silicon Valley giants have come to lament.

Transparency in both your reporting and advertising practices can provide immense value to your clients and community members. It may require some additional effort on your part, but it can go a long way toward differentiating your small publication from many of the bigger players in the industry.

9. Optimal placement

Massive ad buys and programmatic ads don’t offer much when it comes to specific ad placement. Small publishers have the ability to tell clients exactly where, when and how long their ad will appear in a particular ad slot. Your prices may not be able to compete with some of the larger scale ad buys available, but you can change the conversation and focus on the value you can provide in the form of guaranteed placements and visibility.

From page 33 of the report, “Ten Advantages: How Magazines and Hyperlocal News Publishers Will Win in the Era of Facebook and Google” by Broadstreet.

10. Better overall performance

Small publishers, according to Broadstreet, “tend to yield higher engagement rates for ad campaigns than larger publishers.” The results are even more promising when you add good placement and well-crafted creatives into the mix. Clicks and other forms of user engagement are the lifeblood of the digital ad game, and smaller publishers who focus on delivering quality can expect to see increases user engagement.

Now what?

For starters, you should take a few minutes and read the full Broadstreet report. Going forward, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t let the tech giants and industry titans determine what you can and can’t do for your advertising clients.
  • Remember that small publishers have much more autonomy and flexibility than their larger counterparts.
  • Providing value to your customers, your partners, and community members should be the ultimate goal — everything else will follow.
  • You should always be trying to come up with new ways to grow your clients’ businesses, which will have a similar effect on your own.

Disclosure: Broadstreet is a long-time partner of the Center for Cooperative Media and has sponsored past events.

Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media. You can reach him on Twitter at @jsamditis or via email at amditisj@montclair.edu.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. The Center is supported with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and Democracy Fund. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

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Joe Amditis

Associate director of operations, Center for Cooperative Media; host + producer, WTF Just Happened Today podcast.