Scripps’ Digital Chief Refuses To Be 'In the Business of Churn'

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As SVP and chief digital officer for The E.W. Scripps Company, Adam Symson oversees the development of media and advertising products and services in more than 20 markets. His main focus is to enhance the company’s marketing and media product development through Web, mobile and connected TV platforms.

Earlier, as a vice president of interactive for Scripps’ television division, Symson developed mobile-apps strategies and improved website performance for all the division’s stations. In 2011, Scripps restructured its operations to unify its media outlets’ digital and mobile arms. Under Symson’s watch, Scripps claims it became the first network operator in the country to offer group-wide live streaming through mobile apps.

AdExchanger recently spoke with Symson about Scripps’ strategy and its work to become more client-focused, especially when it comes to small-business clients.

AdExchanger: Where are you really focusing your efforts at Scripps?

ADAM SYMSON: My job is to lead the company’s overall digital strategy. Everything from product -- that is, building the things that our end users, readers and consumers consume through content. Then, of course, how we monetize it, whether that’s B2B advertising or direct-to-consumer buys.

As a company, one of our major areas of focus this year is rebuilding the engine underneath our sales and revenue operations business. I think the way revenue operations has evolved – it’s been an evolution, and the thing with an evolution is, you sometimes add new things on, or hang new businesses or products on, and the next thing you know, you’ve built a structure or process with duct tape, chewing gum, or wires and sometimes you need to start to step back and say, “Gosh, if we want to have a frictionless revenue operations process that’s focused on ensuring our AEs are out there selling and our campaigns are effective for local advertisers, then we have to really look within to make sure we have the proper system, structure and setup for that.

What is your view on “productizing” mobility to utilize all of your various channels? Scripps has developed a number of apps, not the least of which includes the Storm Shield Weather app that delivers voice or push-notifications by using location and local TV networks.

Symson: We sort of think that (mobility) is the first point of entry and, essentially, one of our most critical businesses or product areas…I love that you used the word  ‘mobility,’ not mobile, because we look at mobile as a state of being and not necessarily as a platform anymore. But everytime we do anything, we build a business plan for it. And that business plan takes into account a variety of things. Chief among them is the efficacy for the advertiser, if they're going to use ad-based solutions to monetize the product, but also what we call the financial conversion of the product.

When you look at a product like Storm Shield, it’s a product that’s sold to the consumer. We don’t currently have local or national advertising in it, but we have plans to expand on it. We’re being very selective about that as we build this audience. What it won't be, I guarantee you, is run-of-site, random back-fill because it’s a very premium audience, and it’s going to be sold and arranged for a very premium advertiser looking for a connection with that audience, so each business has its own business plan. Likewise, when we think about the mobile products that we have for local news or branded television stations and newspapers, we have a number of different advertising vehicles and a number of ways we look at monetizing those products. We, also, on our newspaper side, have digital subscriptions where we monetize most of the content through digital subscription. So, each time we have a conversation about building a product, it comes with a  business plan that looks at financial conversion first and foremost.

How do you look at data, and what’s your viewpoint on becoming more “predictive” in how it's all managed to better understand -- and help monetize -- it?

Symson: Putting aside the phrase “big data,” business intelligence -- at its core -- is having the information you need to manage and pull back the levers of your business. How do you constantly track the profitability of your business if you don’t understand those levers that you can pull? There’s a big move afoot in our space to really look at our SMB offerings, and there are a lot of digital pure plays that are out on the street selling products at a very, very low price point. The real question is, are those products performing well and are they paying off [for] their client?

That, of course, is a question of renewal. If they’re not performing well and they’re not paying off for a client, essentially all you’re doing is churning through a market, and -- unlike digital pure plays -- we’ve been in these markets (since the 1920s.) ... Our brands are the reasons we have these relationships with the clients and I’m not interested in being in the business of churn. We’re not interested in grabbing today’s revenue and not worry about tomorrow’s. We are an owner and an operator and we’re in it for the long haul. There is no exit strategy for us. Having information about how successful we are is critical.

Scripps’ advertising account managers are using marketing analytics tool Fuel Station from ClickFuel to help identify high and low-performing campaign products for its SMB clients in order to steer clear of that aforementioned churn. How have you used it?

Symson: Essentially, we began working with them to meet our needs on reporting, but when you think about the idea of putting everything into the system on the back end, they’re also able to really get a good sense of, overall -- as an organization and even as an industry -- campaign efficacy…. We started looking at the micro level, client-by-client-by-client, and what we’re now able to get a better sense of is, at the macro level, how a certain kind of offering or product [is] working for our clients. How is a certain campaign working, en masse? It's going to be able to provide us with a greater level of transparency and business intelligence, with, in my opinion, has sort of been lacking in this business.

The No. 1 thing, as an industry, that I think we need to realize is success will only come -- especially with the small-business arena -- by making sure we’re invaluable to their business. We’re only going to succeed when they succeed and grow their business. In order for us to make sure we’re always focused on providing them [with] the right products and services, we’ve got to have really great business intelligence about the efficacy of those products and services. We’ve talked with ClickFuel about using their business intelligence even more to understand our own customers. This will give us a really good view into the health and status of our business.

Being that Scripps has so many diverse platforms, how are you approaching retargeting with your clients?

Symson: In the digital world, when we work with our clients on retargeting, it’s not so much about retargeting somebody from one of our products to another one of our products. What it’s really about is helping them grow their business, so we might assess what the opportunity is to use retargeting by dropping pixels on their platforms. Or, if we determine that our core audience is the exact audience for them, we might do retargeting off of our sites for them. We do behavioral targeting in a number of networks.

It’s one of those tricky sorts of products because it can be really used to amplify the power of digital marketing. If I can retarget for one of our clients to folks who have come to their site -- but have, in the course of shopping, gone to one of our websites, clicked on an ad and then abandoned the website -- then we can touch the consumer three times to enhance brand and lead-generation elements. That’s a really powerful way to build a brand. While retargeting is really powerful from a lead-generation standpoint, we think retargeting is really important component to brand building for local media and small, medium and large advertisers.

We fully subscribe to what I would say is a unique selling process, which really starts with the client and what the client's needs are. If retargeting is of benefit, then retargeting will be part of the mix. But retargeting is not the answer for all. It’s one element of a broad campaign to help achieve the goals of a client.

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