We often hear hyper-local journalists and newspaper publishers scoff at the Mc-cookie cutter and corporate approach of Patch. Too much aggregation, editorial missteps and the lack of advertiser support…..all early critiques that provide some level of comfort for those that hope Patch will fail, and fail fast.
Patch does share a few traits of other struggling or dead local initiatives that adopted a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy. In these plans, editorial & tech execs take the lead and burn through cash to build traffic. THEN… they retro-fit a semi-realistic sales strategy and hire a VP Sales. Ask San Diego News Network and NYT’s The Local, whether that model worked out for them. (hint: it didn’t) We can’t imagine that AOL Patch chief; Tim Armstrong is overlooking the lessons of these past stinkers. We also don’t think he’s doing Patch for purely altruistic reasons like saving journalism or winning journo awards for his mantle. Clearly, he’s wants ROI. And why not? That’s job #1 for any CEO.
Patch using smoke screen & red herrings? To my non-journo hairy eyeball, much of Patch’s current content & editorial efforts are being mis-interpreted by those who feel threatened. Editorial, massive page views and community engagement is not the ultimate end game here. Rather, the real M.O or modus operandi of Patch is to steadily build relationships with local advertisers, then offer a portfolio of digital marketing solutions. And we’re talkin’ more than just banners.
More than just banners. In other words, Patch is just starting to get cozy with mom & pops….getting them ready for a sweet and more profitable up-sell consisting of events, video, sem, web development, social & reputation management, database, etc. Friendly Patch folk stop by local retailers to ‘help’ them with their free online profiles, take some pics, and stealthily update the Patch smb databases. Smart.
Using free-mium model, Patch cuts through clutter and aims to be a primary partner with local business, something traditional media had a lock on for decades. That’s the holy grail. The life blood of local, online news & info, is local advertiser support. Without it, Patch and others like it, fail.
Market incumbents fighting back. Sort of. In Seattle, KING-TV and cross town competitor; The Seattle Times, have formed an un-holy union with their hyper-local ad network plans. In this scheme, they hope to attract indie bloggers by offering the digital sales acumen & relationships of their ‘ace’ TV and Print sellers. Since The Seattle Times has dabbled in hyper-local for the past year, one may assume their solo plan wasn’t working, so they needed a partner. To see the ‘newsroom & editorial only’ perspective on big media & hyper local, watch these very telling interviews of Seattle Times execs. This video clearly highlights the lack of any sales or local advertiser influence and understanding. Also watch for the knucklehead that states: ‘this helps the newspaper’. (why do bloggers want to ‘help’ the newspaper?)
To date, we haven’t seen this kind of plan work out so well for the blogosphere. Especially in the revenue department. That’s why we patiently wait…and wait…..for good hyper-local sales reports from TBD.com, ChicagoNow.com and MiamiHerald.com. Can a TV or Print rep properly represent the unique properties of an indie website? We still think that’s a long shot, as many reps and their ad directors, still struggle to sell their own big media sites.
Journalism’s two masters: reader & advertiser. Which one do you think ROI-focused PATCH is putting first in line? Distasteful as it may sound to some, sales & revenue need to take a front seat in every local news and hyper-local effort. Without sound financial footing, community coverage & engagement are non-existent. Journalism is a means to an end for corporate media. That end is profit. We know this is tough to swallow for newsroom vets, after decades of insanely profitable newspaper domination.
Getting hooks into local smb’s. If Patch can accomplish this, don’t be surprised to see an upgrade in their editorial & staffing. Not only will this will be tough for indie bloggers to compete against, it might just be the final nail in the coffin for Newspaper.