MFM 2012: Keys To Unlocking Digital Rev

Presenters at our Media Finance Focus 2012 conference last week emphasized the need for media companies to adopt a “fleet” rather than a “mother ship” mentality toward sales. As Kannon Consulting President Barbara Cohen explained: “There is no going back. The future is not about how digital will save your traditional business. It’s about making the infrastructure changes that allow you to profit by operating a portfolio of media businesses, and digital is not the answer alone.”

Kannon Consulting President Barbara Cohen, one of the presenters at our Media Finance Focus 2012 conference last week, pointed out that a big challenge for many of us is moving beyond our “mother ship” mentality. She said that many media companies continue to make decisions based upon how they will help or hinder their traditional form of media.

Instead of expecting most of their future revenues to come from the mother ship, Cohen believes the best way to find revenue in the digital world is adopting a fleet mentality. “There is no going back. The future is not about how digital will save your traditional business. It’s about making the infrastructure changes that allow you to profit by operating a portfolio of media businesses, and digital is not the answer alone.”

In another conference session, Jeremy Kagan, CEO and founder of Pricing Engine Inc., a member of the Local Innovations Lab, helped to identify the core elements of a media company’s infrastructure that can fuel a successful fleet of digital media enterprises.

“Most of you have client relationships older than [those of] your digital media competitors,” said Kagan, a former member of MFM’s board. “They would die to have the local ad sales force, the relationships, the established brands and the content engines that that you can offer your markets.”

One of the TV stations that has adopted a fleet mentality is Post-Newsweek’s WPLG Miami. “When you consider what’s happening with overall viewership, there’s only so much on-air revenue growth we can achieve each year. We need to explore the income-generating opportunities that can take advantage of our position in the market,” said Dave Boylan, the station’s VP-GM and incoming chair of the ABC affiliate board.

In addition to its work on selling online and mobile advertising, WPLG has become quite effective at organizing and selling local fairs, including its annual health and fitness fair and an education fair — all great examples of Cohen’s advice to look beyond digital when examining revenue opportunities. That’s not to say the station doesn’t leverage the power of its infrastructure to offer a competitive alternative to other organizers of site-based events. The station is able to use its various on-air, online and mobile digital media platforms to sell and provide value for the event’s sponsors and exhibitors, including “promercials” that give visibility to advertisers who would never have the budget for a flight of TV spots.


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KLAS Las Vegas has a history of being ahead of the curve with ideas that extend well beyond its mother ship. The station, which began offering online advertising and marketing services back in 1994, is today focusing on extending the brands of the station — and its advertisers — across all media platforms. 

“There isn’t a person hired today who can’t work across all platforms,” said Linda Bonnici, VP of ad sales. “Every anchor and reporter is responsible for their Twitter and Facebook presence as well as on-air.” Because these sites reflect the station’s brand, talent is required to post and tweet content that supports the station’s news-focused brand.  

The station’s sales team also works across all platforms, which encompass its primary channel, its ME-TV and 8NewsNow multicast channels, online and Daily Deals sites and its mobileTV apps.

“Selling cross-platform is getting easier,” Bonnici said. “With the downturn, many agencies had to cut back on staff members who were responsible for individual platforms, leaving them with one buyer who’s responsible for multi-platform campaigns.”

As part of re-examining the types of services they can offer to advertisers, Media Finance Focus attendees were also encouraged to re-think their markets. While we normally think of broadcast as having the broadest reach of any media, digital media are actually better at reaching new audiences and customers. This is a lesson that South Central Media, a radio group serving listeners in Nashville, Knoxville and Evansville, has learned.

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With help from Right Source Marketing’s Michael Teitelbaum, the South Central stations began to look at their ability to sell online advertising solutions that would extend the reach of station advertisers well beyond the station’s listening areas. As part of a consultative sales process, the station’s reps work with advertisers on online buys that place their ads before potential customers anywhere in the world.

“Many local businesses — and their advertising agencies — are looking for the experts who can help them to figure out the best ways to use digital media to sell their products and services,” Teitelbaum explained. “Through these lower-priced digital ad buys, we have been able to help local ad reps get their foot in the door with advertisers who had never returned their calls. Not only have the stations been able to make money by selling online opportunities, they have seen a number of businesses expand their buys to include traditional on-air media.”

In addition to hiring people who can work across all platforms, stations must empower their current sales and content staff with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in the digital world. Part of the solution for South Central Media, which had changed its name from South Central Radio to reflect its multiplatform expansion, was to hire digital sales consultants.

These experts in online and mobile advertising participate in what Teitelbaum describes as “four-legged sales calls” where sales reps maintain the primary relationship with the customer. The station’s account reps are able to lead the consultative meetings by being trained to ask the right questions. From there, they work with their digital sales consultants on developing the proposals.  Over time, the sales reps have learned enough about selling digital media that they don’t require the consultant and in a few cases they now serve as digital sales managers for their stations.

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In addition to training, sales reps need the right tools to sell these additions to the station’s portfolio. As Post-Newsweek TV’s Dave Boylan pointed out: “It’s not that different from buying the gear the newsroom needs in order to be competitive. If your reps are selling mobile apps and TV Everywhere on iPads and iPhones, they need presentations that incorporate these devices in order to demonstrate how these new forms of media can serve as effective advertising tools.”

The observations and case studies from these five experts are just a small fraction of the revenue-focused ideas shared by more than 170 experts during the MFM conference.

In the coming weeks, I plan to bring you additional insights from the industry CEOs, CFOs, journalists, TV producers and many other experts who helped us to deliver on this year’s conference theme of “Stacking the Deck in Your Favor.”

Their discussions on such topics as mobileTV, creating TV Everywhere video and ways to improve the financial performance of our businesses can help all of us to shift from our dependence on a mother ship to the portfolio of businesses that can effectively carry us across the turbulent waters of this digital world.

Mary M. Collins is president and CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week.You can read her earlier columns here.

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