I was at the Newspaper Association of America’s Marketing conference a couple of days ago in Orlando, where it was a humid 80 degrees. I was unfortunately only there for one day, moderating a panel on how to compete with free classifieds, schmoozing and wandering the exhibit hall talking to vendors.
The panel I moderated was on competing with free classifieds and featured:
- Tom Finke: Tribune Co.
- Dexter LaPierre: The San Diego Union-Tribune
- David Prizer: ANG Newspapers, CNP Northern Division
- Fran Wills: Denver Newspaper Agency
- Garry Wiseman: Microsoft
This panel (and the conference) had a number of interesting takeaways for me.
The panelists were fairly forthcoming about their successes and failures in their various experiments with free classifieds. Among the surprises were: 1) almost without exception they were unsuccessful in upselling from free ads and 2) they expressed that their newspaper brands carried a certain amount of "baggage" and they potentially needed to create new online brands to effectively compete online.
The Denver Newspaper Assn’s YourHub.com was such an example. While the creation of new brands may liberate newspapers from some of the constraints of the traditional newspaper form, it may be very destructive of the brand over the long term — especially, ironically, if these sites are successful.
The point about newspaper "brand baggage" was not uniformly held by all the panelists but several of them did have that view. I personally believe that newspapers need to focus on the overall user experience online and that their brands are actually strengths to be leveraged in local markets. But I also believe the online product is fundamentally different from the print product and needs to be reinvented online.
Unfortunately, there was not enough time to get into all the interesting facets of the conversation. We also didn’t get into an important area: syndicating classifieds.
The only non-newspaper person on the panel was MSN/Windows Live Expo’s Garry Wiseman, who proved himself truly wise and walked away with tons of business cards after he made specific partnership overtures to the newspapers.
While overall there was still a bit of the "deer in the headlights" quality to some of the discussions I had at the show, most of the people whom I spoke with were smart, aware of the market dynamics and the competition they face, and were ready to take chances and experiment to find out what will work. And there were lots of vendors ready to sell them lots of "solutions."
There was also a local search panel later in the day with Google, Local.com, Tucson.com and Kudzu.com. I thought the panel was very good (I did not moderate). The not-so-subtext on the panel was how, with more effective sites and distribution online, the newspapers might more effectively compete with Yellow Pages for ad dollars.
In general I think the newspaper publishers are going to come much harder at YP advertisers in the next couple of years. The question is execution … but the intention is clearly there.