‘We popped champagne corks’: Local media is reaping the rewards of a slow reemergence of advertising spend

Local media is finally catching a slight break and it’s coming from national and direct-to-consumer advertisers who are aiming directly for regional and local audiences.

There are several reasons why. Regional publications often have cheaper inventory while maintaining a level of connectedness between their newsrooms and their readers that national publications are unable to obtain. Additionally, they offer an opening into communities that are starting to come out of lockdown — or in some cases have been out of lockdown for some time — that allows them to advertise differently than they would in other regions that still have restricted economies.

Gannett’s USA Today Network of local daily publications, as well as digital publishers 6AM City and Whereby.Us, are examples of the locally oriented media companies that have begun reaping the benefits of national advertisers exploring their options in local media.

When the Southeastern part of the country started lifting lockdown regulations in May and June, which was comparatively early to the rest of the country, Michael Kuntz, USA Today Network’s COO of the national division, said that there were several national advertisers who approached his team. They wanted to know what the the best approach was for their brands to market to places like Florida and Georgia where the consumers were able to spend their money in a way that more clearly resemble pre-coronavirus behaviors. 

“When Southeast reopened, certainly Florida was the destination that was of most interest from advertisers, and at the time it was coming from a lot of travel brands,” said Kuntz. 

In 2018 and 2019, the majority of in-bound ad interest and RFPs were focused on the company’s national publication USA Today and USA Today Sports, Kuntz said.

In the past several months, however, that has shifted with at least three or four times more RFPs that specifically reference local publications as an important part of the buy, he said.

From a consumer spending perspective, he said Florida and the Southeast is still critical — even as coronavirus crept higher after the lockdown restrictions were lifted — but with the nuances of reopening restaurants and retail chains in various states, those advertisers need to be in other areas as well.

“We have to be a bit more prescriptive about how, where and when their messaging is spread throughout the country,” Kuntz said.

What’s more, for brands that felt the strain on their marketing budgets at the pandemic-induced recession, local media buys tend to be less expensive than a national buy, considering the audience size is significantly smaller.

The average advertising deal for 6AM City, a regional newsletter publisher based in seven cities across South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida, is around $25,000 for ad spots in its newsletters that typically last four to six weeks. This nets out to approximately $1 per 1,000 active readers, according to the company’s COO Ryan Heafy.

There is a scale issue, however, with getting national advertisers to spend on local publications. Heafy said that 6AM City did not start getting RFPs and inquires from many of its national and direct-to-consumer clients — including Ancestry, Bombas, Harry’s, Noom and Simplisafe — until it broke 250,000 subscribers two months ago.

“These are brands that we didn’t consider pursuing because we didn’t think we could close the deal,” he said. But for these brands, it’s “a cheaper way to reach a highly engaged local community and audience.”

A recent campaign for Revtown Jeans that ran 11 spots across the publisher’s newsletters garnered a total of more than 900,000 impressions and had a click-through rate of 2%, or 17,000 total clicks. This was a higher conversion rate for one of the company’s campaigns, according to Heafy.

6AM City now has more than 275,000 subscribers and a total monthly audience of 1.1 million. The past four months were the highest grossing months for revenue and new sales, Heafy said, adding that the third quarter ended up being up 33% in revenue from where it was in the first quarter of the year. 

Whereby.Us, a publisher with five regional media brands in Florida, Oregon, Washington and Pennsylvania, has also seen an increase in demand from its advertisers in the wake of the pandemic.

This is particularly coming from brands that are looking to “connect deeper with local communities” in order to continue to message their products and brands in a way that was fitting for the time, according to CEO Christopher Sopher. 

The interest came from both local and national brands, but after selling out its advertising inventory across its five newsletters, which have more nearly 85,000 total subscribers, half of which are located in the south Florida region, through the end of the year, Sopher said his team decided to create a larger newsletter network for the Florida market. The network now has several newsletters that being its total subscribers to over 200,000, well beyond the company’s owned-and-operated products.

For a couple of local publishers in Colorado and Delaware, national brands have not yet joined their rolodex of clients. However, Delaware Today magazine publisher Michael G. Reath said that local advertising revenue is coming back pretty significantly, particularly from local restaurants, real estate companies, healthcare and education instiutions. 

The most recent September issue of the magazine, which has a readership of more than 100,000, was the best performing issue in 2020 so far, he said, adding that it was up 7% in advertising revenue than the same issue last year.

“We popped champagne corks,” he said.


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