Moneyball: Fixing Newspaper Web Sales

Traditional Newspaper management is just like the old guard in Baseball. That’s what you’ll think after watching Moneyball starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager; Billy Beane.

Based on a true story, Moneyball shows Beane going up against his old school, know-it-all, front office. He’s tired of being in last place and squeaking by on a shoe string budget. Unable to afford star players, Billy decides to slaughter a few sacred cows and installs experimental yet logical tactics into his game plan.

Today’s Newspaper industry is like that once great, but now struggling baseball team. The key difference? They’re now forced to play on a new, hyper-competitive field called the Internet.

Think about it: the veteran print team is stuck in a rut using the same, tired strategy that served them well for years, but no longer. Today, they get trounced by those with more money & muscle ( think Google, Reach Local, Yellow Pages, independent online publishers , etc.)

Did your publisher waste time and money at a so-called “innovation conference” recently? This is something rank-n-file newspaper staffers should blow a gasket over. Is this really helping to save industry jobs? Is that expensive research working? How about that salaried VP of digital at your company? Think they have fire in the belly?

Answer these questions to determine if you’re playing on the right team.

Anyone on your news team play the role of Billy Beane? Go find one. Their job: encourage the ditching of tactics, managers, research consultants, conferences and professorial pundits that just don’t help anymore. This person will need entrepreneurial tenacity and a thick skin. Some old school execs will immediately try to torpedo their efforts. This person will be a threat to ‘the way it’s always been done’.

Let’s slaughter a few sacred cows in Newspaper, just like Billy in Moneyball…did with the Oakland A’s.

Areas critical to your Newspaper’s digital success or failure

Compensation & Financial Motivation. If you can’t fix this, just turn off your site and retire. While adjustment of compensation is the most direct way to positively affect digital sales, it’s also the most challenging…..especially when surrounded by whiny sales reps and ad managers who threaten mutiny. If you can’t apply this simple & proven principle of comp adjustment to digital, you don’t have a web business… you only have an expensive hobby.

Management Structure. Who’s in charge? If the person managing your digital effort is salaried, you’re either bleeding red ink or you’re hitting a too-low web budget. You’re also leaving a load of cash on the table. Would you ever hire a publisher or ad director and then pay them a nice salary whether they hit their numbers or not? Then why do it with those who control your digital business? Need proof that salaried execs will kill your digital business? AOL Patch, The New York Times, Allbritton’s TBD and Gannett placed salaried, editorial execs in charge of building out the company’s hyper-local business models. To date, these brainiac-led efforts have either been shuttered or still bleed rivers of red ink. Tip: Do the exact opposite of what these egg-heads did. Tip #2: Run digital like a real business, not a hobby.

Inventory Management. Publishers, editors and ad directors vigorously defend the value of their content and readership in print. They smartly price the ad inventory adjacent to the editorial. But we’re floored how often they let Google Ad Sense, Centro and other 3rd party rep firms dictate CPM’s for prime positions on their sites. This over reliance on ad networks & deadly CPM selling contributes to the worse crime of all: web managers boasting of an online ‘sell out’. Duh. Would you ever tell an advertiser that you’re sold out in tomorrow’s Newspaper? Being ‘sold out’ online exposes a serious lack of inventory yield management, poor understanding of supply & demand pricing, and the painful in-ability to quickly create programs that help a client spend money with you.

Market Intelligence. If your staff is blind to what local business wants to do online, you’re in for a rude awakening. Instead of just picking up checks and taking orders, sales reps must be vigilant with collecting client ‘intel’. They must keep up with the ever changing need of the advertiser…especially now, as many are moving their marketing dollars to online.

Some media companies blindly follow the advice of market research firms. They invest in studies about local Internet expenditures. Does this expensive market data provide a road map to digital success? If it did, wouldn’t the industry be better off today?

Local media execs also seem to perpetually debate digital innovations in both journalism and sales. Much of this happens during conference panel sessions and keynotes. We have some advice for these folks: stop debating and start selling stuff your local business community wants to buy.

Fact: Your sales force with those direct relationships with local business should be your #1 source of market research. Reps should always be doing CNA’s (client needs analysis) to uncover clues to help point your Newspaper web sales model in the right direction. If anybody should have high levels of market intelligence and know the spending habits of local business, it should be your local feet on the street….NOT an expensive research or consulting firm. Duh.

Digital Business Model Evaluation.  Coming Soon: Questions to help evaluate the revenue potential of your newspaper website and other digital efforts.

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