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Who's to blame for newspapers' struggle with local Web ads?

Ian Lamont | Nov. 5, 2008
There's a bit of a crisis in the newspaper industry.

They don't spend lots of hours online, and don't appreciate how Web advertising might improve their image or sales. The online loyalty club has been a success, but there's some question over how many new customers the firm could attract an online ad campaign. The marketing manager pointed out that the demographic profile of likely customers falls squarely in boomer territory -- people in their mid-40s, up to the mid-60s. While this group uses the Web, they also are more likely than younger generations to subscribe to newspapers and watch broadcast television.

This company is not unique. When I open my local newspaper -- a suburban weekly owned by Gatehouse Media -- its pages are filled with hundreds of ads. Most are from local and regional companies, plus a limited number of national firms. There are no available data that describe the ages of their owners and CEOs, but I think it's safe to assume that many are in their 40s or older. Not only are they comfortable with traditional media, if their companies or business careers started before the advent of the Web in the mid-1990s, they are almost certainly comfortable with the idea of growing a business and attracting new customers using traditional print and broadcast advertising campaigns.

They are definitely not tapping the same newspaper's website to reach out to new customers. Reloading the front page of the site, I counted ads from eight companies (specifically, a local bank, a cleaning franchise, a local Toyota dealership, a national cable TV provider, a hearing aid company, a senior focused condo development, an arts/crafts merchant, and a local liquor store) and two local colleges on the site this morning. This is about the equivalent of the number of ads that appear on a page or two of the print edition.

Certainly, newspapers need to be doing more, and enabling sales staff to sell online inventory and building out an infrastructure which can more effectively serve local ads are important. However, if the marketing mindset of local clients is still stuck in the last century, these efforts won't be enough to solve the crisis.

Sources and research consulted for this story:,,,, three marketing/advertising professionals attending the WebbyConnect conference in Laguna Niguel, California on October 23, 2008.


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