At the national level in 2014, we are seeing a shift away from "traditional" digital sponsorship units and sales processes towards more commercial digital advertising trends like native advertising and programmatic buying. This can be challenging when it comes to balancing these trends with the noncommercial values of public broadcasting. Read more about national trends.
Given the national picture, what does this mean locally? What should local stations be doing or not doing?
Here are some guiding principles to keep in mind:
- Don’t panic … yet. These are all national trends being felt most pointedly at the network/national level; these have yet to make their way down the food chain to the station or local level.
- Pay attention to what IS working locally: Multiple display ads and above the fold placements can have a big impact on revenue. And according to the NPR Online Sponsorship Survey, over 60% of stations have sites that can accommodate such ads.
- Prepare for the future: Position your station so you are increasing your digital reach and impressions, and have a strong offering to sponsors.
Consider the following specifically relating to your online sponsorship strategy and inventory:
- Believe digital is key: work to create a culture internally where this is true. This drives hundreds of smaller decisions. You can and should see it when you talk to Station Management, the digital team and underwriting.
- Educate as you implement: there’s no time to wait for a good time to get training; learn as you go
- Proactively explore new digital channels: be ready to explore new technologies (i.e. Apps). Consider partnerships with companies you trust. This is the life blood for growing on the internet.
- Keep current on online sponsorship trends: Keep informed about national and local trends to both inform your product knowledge and the decisions you make. NPR has good research available to stations, as do industry research firms like Borrell Associates, eMarketer and others.
- Choose projects to grow reach and underwriting: it’s important to grow digital reach and corresponding digital underwriting dollars. You can use what you know about current trends to help inform the kind of projects that make sense for your station. For instance, the current trends towards rich media, sponsorship icons and social media may be used to help you combat the trend of programmatic buying.
- Be realistic: make sure you have staff that can support digital projects. Let your audience size determine what will bring in revenue. Where is the majority of your audience engaging with your content? Prioritize your strategy that way.
- Leverage inexpensive technical platforms: Tools like Google Analytics, DFP, Drupal, Core Publisher, MOAT and others enjoy widespread use and can help you optimize your digital properties for sponsorship, from measuring impressions and reporting out, to creating ad units and more.
- Engage underwriting on digital projects: sometimes the underwriting team can be an afterthought once a digital content project has been decided on. It serves the station to involve both the digital and underwriting teams from the onset. And underwriting teams will be more likely to be included if they are:
- Aware and comfortable with digital ad products
- Create/maintain digital marketing materials
- Included in digital training
- Developing policies to include Digital in deals
- Display ads: as a best practice you want to be running ads on your site (desktop and mobile versions), apps and email.
- Site design: site design factors in ad size and placements, offers above the fold opportunities for sponsors and supports multiple ads within standard sizes (see IAB guidelines)
- Audio: pre-roll ads are the primary method for stations to monetize audio on the Internet and the revenue can match display. Consider partnering with aggregators like tunein and iheartradio.
- Video: pre-rolls dominate here. Explore digital distribution channels like YouTube, mobile apps etc.
- Mobile: build for iPhone AND android. Plan ahead for upgrades and vendor changes
- Packaging: multi-platform deals dominate. Package different digital ad products together: display, audio, video, mobile, e-mail. This can help generate higher effective CPMs
- No more value add: give some price to your digital properties to start sponsors seeing value. It’s important since more inventory is moving to digital.
- Smaller sites consider flat fee sponsorships: if your traffic is small consider flat fee sponsorships for a defined length of time. This simplifies forecasting and trafficking commitments. (For specific recommendations about traffic levels see Pricing and Packaging).
- Increase digital reach: consider the following:
- Use all digital platforms: sites, apps, emails
- Take advantage of organic traffic (SEO, social media, e-mails)
- Consider Android apps and smartphone sites
- Explore distribution channels: take an “Implement and see” approach; early adoption accelerates growth
- Use digital content to increase impressions: digital contests, school closings, traffic, local blogs, listener photo. Make strategic use of external content sources
- Periodically refresh digital products
- Don’t forget the backend! Ad operations and education and training remain a HUGE challenge. Take the time to understand how important each are to your online sponsorship strategy. Integrate an online trends discussion into every sales meeting. Follow the lead of other stations with more mature online sponsorship programs when it comes to mapping out your digital ad flow and related ad servers.