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Why Media Companies Are Struggling (And How Inbound Can Help)

media-companiesMagazines, newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, and online publishers -- let’s call them media companies -- have been producing news content for years, with the aim of attracting an audience. Whether that content was published on paper or broadcast over a TV or a radio signal, readers, viewers, and listeners were attracted to the content from their source of choice to learn about breaking and industry news. Some might even call them inbound marketers light years ahead of their time. 

Not only did media outlets become a trusted source for news, though -- they also became a trusted outlet for consumers to learn about products. Historically speaking, the media industry created the advertising industry. As newspaper and magazine readers flipped through pages to read the day's events, it made sense that they’d also be able to turn to their media outlet of choice to learn about new products via advertising.

And while in the first half of the 20th century it wasn’t unusual for a family to sit and spend their evening solely with the radio or TV as their source of news and entertainment, modern life has changed everything, presenting some problems for media companies that are desperate to be solved.

Why Media Companies Are Struggling

The internet, tablets, and smartphones have changed the way audiences consume media and the way advertisers use media to engage with consumers. Average time spent with mediums like radio and print have declined up to 15.4% in 2012, according to research published by eMarketer.

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And while time spent with mobile, online and TV show growth, the time spent with these mediums are all highly fragmented. According to eMarketer, 57% of people use Smartphones, 67% use PC’s, 75% use tablets, and 77% use TV’s while also using another device. In other words, captive audiences are a thing of the past, and so are the connections that advertisers used to be able to make with them. 

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On top of the shifts in time spent with media and the fragmentation of audience engagement, media companies are also challenged with shifts in revenue. More traditional media companies like newspapers, radio, local TV stations, direct mail, and directories experienced a total decline in revenue ranging from $25 million to $1.7 billion from 2012 to 2013 according to Borrell Associates 2013 Local Advertising Outlook.

All of these factors are taking a big toll on media companies, forcing leaders at media companies to face their challenges head on. As I speak with more and more consultants, General Managers, VPs of Sales, and Directors of Marketing they tell me that if their companies don’t adapt to accommodate their audience and their advertisers, they’re going to fall behind. Here are the top challenges these media companies have shared with me, and how we believe inbound marketing can help them meet and defeat those obstacles.

1) Lack of Warm Leads for Sales

Trends indicate that ad growth will come from brand new business, not existing customers, in 2013. The problem is sales reps don’t have enough warm leads from new prospects who are actually ready, willing, and able to do business. In an article published in Radio Ink, Matt Sunshine, SVP of Sales of the Center for Sales Strategy, notes that media salespeople are struggling now more than ever to secure quality appointments. Media companies expect each sales person to be a jack of all trades -- find the prospects, secure the appointments, define the needs, solve the problems, sell the right solutions to get results -- then lather, rinse, and repeat. This process isn’t an effective one and it often prevents these professionals from developing any real expertise.   

How can inbound marketing help?

The solution here is easy. Inbound marketing 101, if you will. Media companies have marketers responsible for engaging their audience but rarely do they have a single marketer responsible for engaging potential advertisers. But why not? The average local SMB gets called on by up to 34 sales reps every month with only up to 9 of those reps securing appointments. But we all know appointments don’t guarantee sales. Sending your sales people on appointments with prospects that have already expressed a need and interest for what you provide, however, will allow your reps to spend more time in the sales process with prospects who are ready and willing to buy.

So what's the first step? Hire a marketer responsible for generating leads for your sales people. Then, if you don’t have a blog, have that new hire create one. As a media company your website already generates more traffic than the average website so create a folder or subdomain on your website and start blogging there. 

Once your blog is set up, you want to be sure that you drive qualified traffic to your blog. To do this you need to develop buyer personas and write content your buyers personas would find interesting. Then you're ready to create an offer for this buyer persona -- like an ebook or whitepaper -- that your target buyer will download to learn more about how they can benefit from advertising with your company. After your offer is created, write a blog post promoting the offer to attract that buyer persona to your blog. In your blog post, have a distinct call-to-action directing the prospect to a landing page where they can download the offer by completing a form. 

Once the form is completed, voila … you now have a lead! After your lead reads a few blog posts, converts on some offers, and interacts with your website, your sales people will know not only what types of products/services this prospect is interested in, they’ll be able to spend their time connecting with and engaging in the sales process with prospects who are ready, willing, and able to buy advertising with your company.

2) No Differentiation From Other Media Companies

As media companies have taken their content and advertising digital, it’s hard for readers to differentiate one media company from the next. Your favorite TV station, radio station, newspaper, and magazine essentially all look almost exactly the same in their online formats -- from both a content and advertising perspective. Let’s face it, unless your publication has an exclusive or embargoed story, most consumer news publications cover the same stories, and industry publications cover similar topics. The investment choices for advertisers all look the same as well: banner ads, video pre-roll, page take-overs and maybe a little native advertising. 

So if your audience is the same, your content is the same, and your advertising offerings are the same as the next media company, what would make an advertiser buy from you over your competitor?  In the good old days, newspapers only competed against other newspapers, and the TV stations competed against the other TV stations; now that websites across all mediums look the same and the newspaper’s website can deliver the same content as the TV or radio station’s website, every media company is the others’ competitor. 

Sales managers and reps in the industry know that they have to come up with a better solution and need to sell more than just digital clicks and impressions to win the hearts of their advertisers.

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How can inbound marketing help?

Inbound marketing means a lot more than generating leads for your sales people. Inbound marketing can also help you generate leads for your advertisers.

At the end of the day, what do you advertisers want from you? If they sell cars, they want you to help them sell more cars. If they sell insurance, they want you to help them sell more insurance. If they sell hardware, they want you to help them sell more hardware. You get the point.

But how can you do that in a way that differentiates you from the competition? If you stop selling them access to impressions of people who they can never directly connect with and help them generate real leads from people ready, willing, and able to buy. That's how you can help them sell more of what they sell.  

Inbound marketing campaigns can make this happen. Let’s say you're a sales manager at a local newspaper. You have a long-time advertiser that is a mortgage company, let's call them ABC Mortgage Company. The advertiser buys banner ads with you but they just don’t see impressions on your website resulting in sales. The mortgage company is thinking about investing its money elsewhere. Instead of the advertiser going elsewhere, offer them an inbound marketing campaign. 

Create an offer, publish a sponsored blog post on your website in the financial news section about why investing in 30 year fixed rate is good for first time home buyers, include a CTA and drive traffic to a landing page that prompts the reader to download a guide about ‘The 10 Steps to Securing Your First Home Loan’ and start generating leads for ABC Mortgage Company. Now instead of telling your advertiser that you delivered a couple hundred clicks, you can tell the advertiser that you generated X amount of leads from people who are starting the search for a home in the next month, X amount of leads from people who are searching for a home in 2 months, and X amount of leads from people who are searching for a home in 6 months. That’s a little better than just a couple hundred clicks, wouldn’t you say?

As a media company, you have the answer to a problem that most companies would give a proverbial arm and a leg for. You have site traffic. From an audience of curious readers who come to your website to learn and consume information. If you leverage your audience properly, they’ll love learning through your content and through your advertisers’ content.

3) Increase Audience Engagement

Which leads me to the next challenge. Fragmentation of media consumption is a trend on the rise. Media outlets look the same to consumers, and with an abundance of viewing options -- TVs, smartphones, tablets, PCs -- media companies are challenged with turning the casual or “fly by” readers they have into loyalists that return multiple times a day or week.

If you can get your audience to return to your website more frequently by engaging them with content they care about, you become more valuable to your audience. The more value you show, the more you can motivate them to take the actions you want them to take. You may want to motivate them to subscribe to a free newsletter. You may want them to subscribe to a paid digital version of your publication. You may just want them to enter a contest or engage with an advertiser.

How can inbound marketing help?

Just as you would use a CTA in a blog post to generate leads for your sales people or advertisers, you can use CTAs to motivate your audience to interact with your content. One way you might do this would be to send an email out to your audience members (that have opted in to emails from you, of course) and use a promotion, say free tickets to the local ball game, if they complete a form. In the form, you can ask them questions about their content preferences and what their favorite section of the website is.  Once they complete the form, you have now created a contact record in your CRM, and can start to gather intelligence on this reader that will help you make their user experience better.

Now, the next time they visit your website you can serve them with a CTA that might prompt them to sign up for a breaking news, crime blotter, or “insert section of choice” newsletter. You can even track what that person views every time they visit your website, so if you start to notice that they visit the travel or food section of your website more than they read breaking news, you could offer them up a CTA to sign up for the food newsletter or even serve them an inbound marketing campaign sponsored by one of your food advertisers.

The point is, the more you know about your audience, the more you can keep them engaged with your content. The more you can keep them engaged with your content, the more you can motivate them to take actions based on their preferences and interests. Their interests may lay with editorial content, or their interests may lay with your advertisers’ content.    

4) Replacing Lost Revenue Streams

Remember the big revenue decline we were talking about earlier in traditional media companies? Print media is taking the biggest hit. According to AdAge, digital advertising gains won’t be enough to offset the 7.8% compound annual decline in print advertising. With compounded revenue projected to decline through 2017, solutions to replace this revenue can’t come soon enough. And according to the aforementioned Borrell Associates, Inc. 2012 Digital Marketing Services Report, 72% of a SMBs marketing budget goes towards online marketing services, while only 12.4% goes to online advertising. If media companies are looking to replace lost revenue streams, marketing services is a great place to start.

How can inbound marketing help?

Every advertiser these days maintains a website, or “owned” online presence to which they want to drive traffic. And sure, ads can drive traffic to a website, but what about all of the other potential traffic on the internet? Why not help the advertiser attract more traffic to their website with “owned media” that complements their “rented media,” then help them convert that traffic into leads and nurture those leads into customers, and continuously analyze each step to find opportunities for improvement? Instead of fighting the marketing services industry, media companies should embrace it. Owned and earned media can work together for the benefit of the advertiser.

Media companies dabbling in reselling SEO and PPC campaigns, managing email marketing programs, or that are offering content creation are certainly on the right path -- but they may not be helping  advertisers fill their sales pipeline to its maximum potential. By offering inbound marketing service retainers, media companies can introduce new revenue streams to help replace lost revenue, secure their fair share of the 75% of digital dollars spent on marketing services, and offer great results for advertisers.

You can hear executive level media leaders discuss how they are leveraging inbound marketing to engage their audience and increase digital ad revenue at INBOUND on August 22nd. For more information about the session and a discount code to attend, tweet the author of this article Melanie Collins -- the manager of HubSpot's Publishing, Media, and Advertising Program -- at @MelanieCollins1 with hashtag #inboundforadvertising.

Image credit: NS Newsflash

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