Finding Hope in the State of the News Media

Beyond declining news media revenue, we’re optimistic.

Every so often an individual or an organization contributes to the flow of glum financial news about the media industry, and it reminds us at Dream Local Digital why we started this whole social media and online marketing gig. We want to help.

The latest refrain in the long, slow symphony of media industry despair comes from the respected Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C., organization that tracks a variety of social and cultural trends and issues an annual State of the News Media report. Among the report findings, which compared 2017 to 2016:

  • Revenue was down for newspapers, local television news broadcasts and local radio news. It remained about the same for network news but increased for cable TV news stations.
  • Audience declined for nearly all types of news media, including digital-native news organizations. The declines ranged from a 15 percent drop in the number of people who watch local news morning shows to a 5 percent drop in unique visits to digital-native news sites. Only radio audience held steady from the previous year.
  • Even though digital advertising revenue increased 25 percent, so far, news media organizations aren’t seeing much benefit from that increase. Google and Facebook get 52 percent of all digital advertising revenue.

Dealing with the Shift to Digital

The numbers indicate that newspaper, television and radio salespeople who’ve served their advertisers with reliable advertising for so many years are scratching their heads. Their existing clients are buying less, and it’s getting harder to attract new ones.

So, where’s the hope in those findings? It’s behind the curtain of digital advertising. Advertising and marketing dollars haven’t gone away. Instead, they’ve shifted to other media — social media, email marketing and online video, to name a few. The shift has not been a smooth one, however, for the small and medium-sized businesses that have been the top users of traditional news media advertising.


Social Media Questions Are Opportunities

Many small business owners and marketers still have hundreds of questions about social media and other forms of online marketing.

  • Should I have a presence on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Yelp, Instagram, or Snapchat? Or all of them?
  • Can I do this myself? How much time will it take?
  • How can I tell if it’s working?
  • Is it “free” or do I have to pay for ads?
  • How do I send emails to my customers, and what do I say?
  • Should I do Google search ads?

Those who can answer questions like these, no matter what news media master they served in the past, can make themselves valuable to their clients by opening the curtain, offering educated advice and selling those digital products. It’s a matter of education, both for print and broadcast salespeople and for their clients. And there’s evidence that the education process pays off.

Selling Digital as an Add-On

That evidence comes from Borrell Associates’ 2018 Local Advertiser Survey, which reports that more than half of TV, newspaper and radio organizations are selling some sort of digital “add-on” product with their traditional products. What’s even more interesting is that, according to the Borrell research, advertisers are buying the digital add-on 81 percent of the time. If news media companies offer it, they will buy it.

Borrell Associates Add On GraphGraph: Borrell Associates.

There are some other bright spots in the Borrell insights.  For one, advertisers are not completely abandoning traditional news media. Rather, they are spreading their marketing dollars across several platforms. Yes, fewer advertisers are relying solely on traditional media, but neither are they completely giving up on them. Clearly, advertising salespeople who can talk intelligently about how different media complement each other have an advantage, while those who continue to pitch only their traditional media products like Johnny One-Note will languish.

SMBs Still Use Newspapers, Radio

Borrell Associates provides even more evidence that traditional media advertising is not ready to fade away just yet. When asked which types of marketing they use, small and medium-sized businesses listed social media first (78 percent), followed by newspapers (67 percent), email marketing (56 percent), event marketing (50 percent), direct mail (48 percent) and radio advertising (44 percent).

There’s no doubt, however, that the roles of traditional news media and their salespeople are changing. No longer can they afford to present marketing services based on just one medium. And that’s where Dream Local Digital brings a few more musical instruments to the orchestra. Our agency began in 2009 by helping local small businesses discover and use social media for their marketing. But that was just the first movement. We have some deep roots in the newspaper industry, and our long-term goal has always been to pass along our digital marketing education to help media companies bolster their revenue and evolve into providers of diverse advertising products and services.

It’s working. We partner with some of North America’s most progressive media companies by fulfilling the digital marketing services their advertisers need and want. Our success is linked to theirs, so we pay attention when organizations like the Pew Research Center report on the changing state of the news media. But where some see a failing industry in those numbers, we see challenges, opportunities and hope.

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