Gannett Sharpens Digital Ad Position Says CDO Payne

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David Payne GannettEarlier this month, Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, hosted a "digital upfront" designed to showcase the McLean, Va. media company's value across the web and mobile. After years of struggle, Gannett has recently begun to see strength in its traditional TV ad sales and newspaper circulation revenues, which gained 46 percent and 24 percent, respectively in Q4. But newspaper ad dollars have continued to slide, falling nearly 6 percent. In contrast, total digital revenues across Gannett increased 29 percent and represented 25 percent of total revenue, in part driven by properties like rich media provider PointRoll, which tapped Mario Diez, the former CEO of defunct newspaper joint venture quadrantONE, as its new head this week.

Given the pressure, the company has been working on building up its digital image, particularly for its flagship brand, USA Today, through its local integrated marketing programs and on its mobile and tablet apps. The message that Gannett is not just an "old media" company with some interactive extensions is what Chief Digital Officer David Payne and and CMO Maryam Banikarim have been shaping since the duo joined the company exactly two years ago.

AdExchanger decided to check in with Payne, a former CNN exec who previously founded video ad tech firm ShortTail Media, on how that message to marketers has evolved.

AdExchanger: What's the state of Gannett's digital ad strategy right now? What are some of the newest initiatives related to digital advertising that Gannett has been pursuing the past few months? What's ahead? 

DAVID PAYNE: Gannett’s digital ad strategy is premised on creating products that provide a healthy balance of transactional and high-impact advertising that leverages the company’s unique national-to-local footprint.  A core goal is to move brand advertising into digital by creating user experiences where advertising is a part of, not apart from, the content.  This manifests itself in full screen advertising that can be trafficked, managed, and reported with a single tag across platforms.

Our belief is that if we are going to be successful in migrating brand dollars to digital, rather than build a model around trying to get two in 1,000 people to click on an ad and go to another site, as publishers, we need to create user flows that open up the entire screen to bring the marketer's brand art, content and video into the natural content experience.  When you do that, 1,000 out of 1,000 see the breadth and scope of the marketing message, and the calls to action become "click–in" not click through. [He then makes a reference to the USA Today "page-turner" feature.]

Mobile has been a focus for a long time at Gannett. Most publishers regard mobile as little more than providing incremental revenue, even as consumers have been spending more and more time accessing content on smartphones and tablets.

Apparently, we’re not most publishers.  Mobile has caused a seismic shift in news consumption. With half of all adults owning a smartphone and the number of tablet owners increasing by 50% last year, our mobile and tablet usage is growing like gangbusters.  Advertising and commerce dollars will continue to rise against that large and growing audience.

The challenge for us as publishers is to be more creative than sticking a static display unit on a smaller screen. When you correlate the relationship between device capabilities like the ability to transact commerce, with day-part and location addressability and specific call to actions, the potential is immense.  As one example, we‘ve recently developed a mobile commerce ad unit that reduces the friction between offer and conversion by allowing the user to complete the transaction through the ad unit without leaving your place on the screen.  Here again, our focus is on both user and marketer experience where “jumping between” things is discouraged and the experience is as seamless as possible.

How has PointRoll been evolving, now that rich media is in such demand and competition has increased?

Big time.  PointRoll has a ton of momentum and is perfectly positioned for a breakout year.  In fact, we just hired a new CEO, Mario Diez, to lead our efforts.  Anyway, let’s be clear why I am bullish: the demand for simple execution of complex ad campaigns across platforms has never been higher, and I believe we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on that trend.  There is not a single Fortune 500 company or major agency that doesn’t want to move its digital buy beyond the banner and work with a single provider to manage this shift simply.  Right now, neither the marketers nor the agencies benefit from the multi-variant and multi-vendor model that exists for ad creation, delivery, attribution and reporting across social, mobile, video and rich media.  And on the publisher side, I can assure you, we all need solutions that will work across the ecosystem – something PointRoll has years of experience delivering.  At PointRoll, we intend to succeed in providing the complete end-to-end solutions the marketplace needs with our new platform in development.

Is Gannett doing anything new with "digital coupons/mobile circulars?" Anything new with the Gannett Local marketing program? 

Yes, lots new.  We’ve recently launched an entire division dedicated to local marketing services, and I am pleased to say the demand has well exceeded our aspirations for the business.  Our Digital Marketing Services team offers a one-shop-stop of services including web sites, e-circulars (ShopLocal), daily deals (Deal Chicken), e-mail, SEM and SEO, mobile, loyalty programs and social marketing.   On the latter two, we made key acquisitions in 2012:  Mobestream Media (Key Ring) and BLiNQ Media.

Key Ring is a leader in mobile loyalty with 7MM+ downloads and now not only includes loyalty cards but also store circulars, coupons and daily deals, creating a shopping utility that is being rapidly embraced by consumers. And BLiNQ provides us with new and significant social marketing capabilities. We’re just now exploring new joint products we can develop with PointRoll, BLiNQ and Key Ring, and there are several that can be real game changers.

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