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To round out the afternoon of Day 1 of our ILM West Conference, a heavy hitter roster of local media veterans defined the current state of local media ad sales. The short answer: We’re in the midst of lots of change, but there’s a ways to go. And the clock is ticking

Kris Barton, Chief Product Officer, ReachLocal
Mark Canon, CEO, SmugCloud
Jeff Folckemer, CEO, LocalEdge
Kathy Geiger-Schwab, Principal, Geiger-Schwab Consulting

Many of the session’s talking points flowed from BIA/Kelsey analyst Charles Laughlin’s opening comments — first presented to preview an upcoming foundation paper he’s producing.  This includes synthesizing lots of best practices in local media sales.

One of the challenges out there is the confusion on the part of SMBs, which has bred a hunger and unmet need for clarity and simplicity. Instead there has been the opposite:  inundation by more and more ad sales reps.

This has led to even more competition for the SMB ad dollar than there’s always been. Daily deals sites, website vendors, social media and other things have joined the fray to compete for a fixed “share of wallet” for SMBs.

Traditional media has the longstanding benefits of established direct local sales channels. But at the same time, they’re faced with legacy models which have bred resistance to change (not to mention debt).

Laughlin likened this to a question of whether to buy a new car or replace the engine.  Should local media sales organizations make incremental changes to better sell digital products… or is it a full tear down?

The panel mostly agreed the way forward will be the latter.  Laughlin pointed to examples: Eniro in Sweden, Deseret Media in Utah, and Trader Media in Canada have each found varying success in building new organizations around digital media sales.

The panel agreed that independence  from the legacy channel can free these divisions to be as nimble, and to build the strategies from the ground up. It also requires a change in thinking about measuring rep performance among many other factors.

Asked for examples of companies that have redefined to this proposed degree, Kathy Geiger-Schwab points to other industries: IBM’s move from hardware to services, and Corning’s positioning to supply the glass used by most touch screen smart phones.

These each made unpleasant moves to redefine and re-position products in anticipation of massive marketplace shifts. The same can’t be said for many companies in traditional media — sometimes a function of organizational inertia and culture.

“What they know gets in the way of what they don’t know,” said Geiger Schwab in reference to execution barriers, and tendencies to fall back on iterative changes.  “This iteration we’ve been doing for 10-15 years is the death knell of traditional media companies.”

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