For Belo's New Digital Marketing Unit, The Keyword Is 'Standalone'

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Eric Schaefer, ScreenshotLast month, local TV broadcast operator Belo Corp. launched its attempt at a pure play digital marketing unit, ScreenShot Digital. The move is similar to ones taken by Time Inc., Gannett, Meredith Corp. and others the last three years.

Unlike some of those integrated digital marketing units, ScreenShot isn’t being positioned as a way to leverage traditional ad sales for digital. It’s intended to derive digital dollars on its own and plant Belo’s flag in areas that the company, which owns and operates 20 TV stations and their related websites, doesn’t have a presence. We spoke with Eric Schaefer, formerly president of mobile marketer NetInformer and now ScreenShot’s GM, about how the company plans to tap local interactive marketing and pursue an independent path.

AdExchanger: By creating ScreenShot Digital, is Belo just jumping on the digital marketing bandwagon that companies like Meredith Corp. and Gannett have been doing for years?

ERIC SCHAEFER: I'd say Belo is bucking the trend in general if you look at the fact that they had been, up to this point, heavily focused on TV. With digital being a unique opportunity going forward, it made sense to plot out a more serious way of forming a digital marketing unit from scratch, rather than acquiring a few things and cobbling it together in order to serve the larger core business of TV advertising.

Belo had been thinking about this for a while. They were seeing success in the markets they operate in from a lot of different areas. When you look at what they were doing both with their core offerings as well as some of the unique audience targeting options that they had in their marketplace, plus the growth in its mobile offerings, doing a pure play digital marketing company made sense.

Why did they choose now in particular, as opposed to years ago?

There is a kind of “me too” quality to the media business and it’s hard to avoid. But sometimes, waiting for the right moment is the smartest thing you can do. As you mentioned, over the past few years, traditional media companies have been starting up digital outposts that are focused on the markets that those strategic media companies are in as a supplement to the TV station or the newspaper that’s the core business.

To create a truly complementary media business, the best thing is to be unique and go outside of the markets when it is already firmly established. We’re looking for markets where there's heavy marketing investment and concentration of digital advertising. We want to tap dollars that are already being spent now, not a place that is yet to emerge and remains untested. The plan is to come in as a digital marketing consultancy that can offer services related to measuring and improving the performance of ad campaigns across online and mobile platforms.

To be clear, are you saying that there’s no direct partnership between ScreenShot and, say, a Belo-owned TV station’s ad sales team on a local cross-platform campaign?

Yes, we are operating completely independently of those other Belo properties. ScreenShot is being positioned as a longer-term play that reflects the wider media business beyond TV and print. It’s about broadening the entire business model of how we're approaching customers and driving revenue. This is ultimately a way for us to disrupt the types of conversations we as a traditional media business are used to having.

How does ScreenShot alter the typical conversation with a marketer?

Going into a market where you're focused on the traditional method of selling your TV station or your newspaper used to be where the frontlines were represented. We're coming in and saying, look, we're  here to help you as a business with a customized solution around the use of digital. This isn’t just about selling ads at a particular daypart or print section. When we go in, we look at the entire market, we're going to look at everything that’s available, and we're going to help marketers put the best plan together of execution to make that happen and knowing that we're able to use kind of the idea of data driven marketing where you're designing for measurement, you're keeping score, and you're looking at ways to invest dollars where you have the most relevant impact on your business.

Later on, after we’ve established ourselves independently, is there an opportunity to play in the Belo markets? Sure, that’s pretty likely at some point. But we’re concentrating on forging our own path before we simply circle back.

Are you dealing directly with agencies? Or do you think you can sidestep them with your own offerings?

We'll play nice with everybody. To start, we’re looking to talk to direct advertisers. Do we play nice with agencies? Yes, of course. I wouldn’t rule out dealing with other media companies because I think there are opportunities there as well.

[ScreenShot Digital] is more of a niche marketing consulting group that executes, handles the metrics and analytics, and provides an audit of the company’s digital marketing performance – understanding what's working, what’s not working, and how we can help optimize current, live campaigns.

We feel that the marketer and the person spending $10,000, $50,000, $100,000 dollars a month on digital advertising in these regional marketplaces deserves more. They deserve better engagement with the folks that they're buying those services from. They shouldn’t have to figure it out for themselves and go back and do all the analysis.  They should have somebody come to them and say, for a certain fee, we're willing to give you kind of insights behind all that spending so they can make an impact on their future planning.

The message to marketers is that if you allow us to come in, we'll help you make better decisions about your publisher and audience choices in the digital space. We’re not  coming in and over-complicating the marketing message and talking about how “the funnel has been blown up and social media is here and changing everything.” The differentiator these days is predicated on saying to a marketer, “If you spend a dollar, is there is a way to get a return of three dollars and can we help you down that path?” That is our goal.

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