What Do Local Advertisers Really Want?

In a nutshell, small and medium-size businesses want to see well-educated sales reps that understand both the customer they are pitching and the variety of solutions they have to offer. SMBs are not looking for someone to sell against digital, or to try to convince them that one medium is better than another; they are looking for sound advice — a marketing expert they can trust.

With more local marketing dollars being allocated to digital media, often at the expense of traditional news sources, you would expect TV stations and other media providers would be ensuring their digital sales programs align with advertiser expectations. But that’s not always the case.

In fact, “local advertisers are on the verge of revolt,” according to Gordon Borrell, CEO of the research firm Borrell Associates. He bases this observation on a recent study conducted by his firm that unleashed “a torrent of frustration” from respondents when they were asked how local media companies might help with their marketing needs.

Advertiser responses included:

  • Do your research before you call us! I don’t have time to explain (my) industry or our small town to you.

  • Don’t try and be everything. I don’t trust a radio station to provide online marketing just like I wouldn’t trust a print company to make a video.

  • Learn about the business before reaching out to me. It seems like I receive the same opening pitch from everyone even though they have no idea what we’re currently doing and how successful it has been.


  • Don’t tell me how many people read or view the ad or use your media. Tell me how many or what percentage of readers/ viewers become new or better customers.

Improving Advertising Partnerships

Borrell shared these comments in an article appearing in the January-February issue of MFM’s The Financial Manager (TFM) magazine. In addition to voicing complaints about what they don’t like, the study’s 7,564 respondents also provided suggestions on how media companies can improve their advertising partnerships.

When it comes to what they want from media providers, “the most-mentioned words were ‘affordability,’ ‘cost,’ ‘ROI’ and ‘money’,” Borrell reported. And while almost 40% of those surveyed used these terms, “oddly enough, the words ‘digital,’ ‘website’ and ‘Internet’ popped up in only 5% of the responses.”

In responding to the apparent disconnect between the two findings, Borrell said: “Perhaps they don’t perceive local media as naturally positioned to help them with digital media.”

If that’s the case, I would add his observation to the list of challenges that media companies need to address. With more than a third of local businesses planning to increase their digital advertising budgets in the coming year, you don’t want to be perceived as unable to provide your clients the digital media services they plan to buy.

So what kinds of services do marketers want? According to the Borrell study, local advertisers “plan to plow more money into digital and especially social media — forms of media that they control directly.”

“Don’t underestimate the importance of those digital goals,” Borrell cautions. “In the surveys Borrell has conducted over the past six years, most advertisers have rated their own websites as better lead-generators than any other form of media advertising, including banners and search-engine advertising on third-party sites.”

What’s Working?  

Local advertisers are, in Borrell’s words, “experimenting with digital media and it’s obviously captured their attention.”

Stations that are applying Borrell’s advice to include digital solutions are succeeding. “Media companies have gone beyond just selling digital ads. They’re delivering many of the ancillary services that small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) need,” he says.

For example, the firm’s survey of 176 local media companies found “86% are offering digital services to help SMBs improve their websites; get noticed by the search engines; manage their online reputation, and produce videos about their products and services.”

The key is well-educated sales reps. It’s no longer enough to do what we used to call “show-up and throw-up.” Today’s media sales reps must understand both the customer they are pitching and the solutions they have to offer. In Borrell’s analysis, SMBs are not looking for someone to sell against digital, or to try to convince them that one medium is better than another; they are looking for “sound advice — a marketing expert they can trust.”

Encouraging news from the survey is that “88% of respondents said they consider their traditional media reps to be digitally savvy.” However, it’s also worth noting that only one in five found them “very savvy” about digital.

One thing that really struck me was local advertisers reporting that the number of sales calls “nearly doubled” between the 2015 and 2016 surveys. Think about that, at a time when business owners, like everyone else, are struggling to do more with less, they are being bombarded with unproductive sales calls.

Something’s got to give, and that something appears to be the number of sales reps to whom they give their business. Borrell says they’re not cutting back on a specific medium so much as cutting reps who they don’t believe can help them. “In 2010 the average SMB was working with five media companies throughout the year; in 2016 the number was 3.6.”

Not surprisingly, companies that aren’t delivering the services and insights advertisers want are the most likely to wind up on the short end when advertising budgets are reallocated. It’s not a big leap to assume that the companies with untrained sales reps will suffer the greatest losses. In addition to reporting the increase in sales calls, Borrell survey respondents also registered more complaints about “irritating reps — especially uneducated ones.”

There is a bright spot in all of this. Advertisers in midsize and small markets “continue to trust locally based media companies in a huge way,” with 75% of their advertising expenditures going to traditional media companies. As Borrell notes, “the underlying message is: if you think traditional media are dying, think again.”

The complete article, along with a sidebar focused on what traditional media companies are doing to spread the word about the value they offer to their most important customers, will be available to MFM non-members for a limited time through a digital copy of TFM on the MFM website. Members have already been mailed a copy of the magazine and they have unlimited access to the TFM archives in the Members Only section of the website.

Interested In Additional Information?

Borrell Associates’ Gordon Borrell will be expanding upon these finding in a free Distance Learning Seminar that MFM is offering next month. Scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 14, the webinar will lay out the major trends in local advertising and offer five predictions for 2017 as well as Borrell’s recommendations on how media companies can capitalize on those trends.

The free event, what we are calling our Valentine’s Day gift to the media industry, should also serve as a great introduction to the deeper dive into those insights that will be provided by the firm’s “LOAC 2017” conference, which will be held in New York March 6-7.

The market data from Borrell Associates is just one example of how the business of media is becoming increasingly complicated. With local advertisers allocating their marketing dollars to a smaller number of trusted media companies and everyone trying to do more with less, there’s no substitute for the kind of knowledge industry-specific educational programs can provide.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and itsBCCA subsidiary, the media industry’s credit association. She can be reached at[email protected] and via the association’s LinkedInTwitter, or Facebook sites.

Comments (4)

Leave a Reply

Jayson Siler says:

January 20, 2017 at 8:02 am

Great piece!

Gregg Palermo says:

January 20, 2017 at 8:54 am

Good advice.

April McLynn says:

January 20, 2017 at 5:24 pm

Great article. We offer a simple all-in-one platform that stations/groups can use to offer very powerful digital services to clients and prospects.

Cheers, Jonathan

Jonathan Evans
[email protected]

Brian Bussey says:

January 23, 2017 at 10:10 am

show up and throw up ?
all on my new business targets in 2017 are all 6 and 7 figure print advertisers. The local paper is giving them all these new fangled digital capabilities for free. That pretty much sums up what value local business owners place on all these digital capabilities. We might be the best and the most learned, but digital fulfillment has to include the cash register ringing. Reams of reports about time spent, time on site, length of views, bounce rates, and all the other analytics out there, are still nowhere near as important as footprints in the show room and the cash register ringing. clients also don’t want to hear national expenditures for this new fangled digital technology. Does it really matter what the combination of resources really includes….if it does not work or you cannot prove it worked ?? or it over achieved the client’s expectations.? I am in it to win it and it I leaned a long time ago that dis-respecting a person’s time that you spent a year trying to get in front of is stupid and horrifically expensive.

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