You’ve arrived at a blog about transforming the companies that publish newspapers. And it’s a blog with an unorthodox point of view.
Here it is: News will not save you.
Why not? Because the disruption that’s pounding newspaper companies is not about people Read the rest of this entry
Ah, real estate. It used to be such a wonderfully profitable sweet spot for newspapers, back in the dear, now-dead days before the Web. And now it’s just a shadow of its former self.
The real estate business itself is doing okay these days, although it always has its ups and downs. It’s print real estate advertising in newspapers that’s been deeply and permanently disrupted.
The question I’m trying to answer these days is, isn’t there another model through which local media companies can play key roles in the real estate market?
This year, local real estate advertising is projected to be a $5.6 billion a year business in the United States, down 6.7%, according to a recent Borrell Associates report. And the newspaper share of it is down to just 12.5%, while online/digital advertising is now at 53.4%.
The migration of real estate ad dollars from print to digital happened with shocking speed beginning in the late 1990s, along with automotive and recruitment advertising. The Big Three, as we called them back then, simply work much better online than in print.
Online just works better
It’s much easier to search, filter and compare homes, cars and jobs online than in print. And the ability to post scores of photos for each home and car makes online listings far superior to the little bitty images available in print. No wonder consumers quickly learned to take their home, car and job searches to the internet.
Now, almost 20 years later, the patterns of consumer behavior are well established. Online searches, social media and email are fully habitual for most people. And therefore, real estate agents and brokers have to spend the bulk of their advertising and marketing dollars on the attempt to be found in digital channels.
In the media business, we know this. But what are we really doing about it?
Early in the Web era, we created our own online listings platforms, hoping to win a meaningful share of the online traffic in the Big Three verticals.
Except for Cars.com, created by newspaper companies, that strategy has been a notable failure. With precious few exceptions, local media companies have not been able to compete in their local markets against the dominant online powerhouses in these verticals.
Tired of losing out
At Morris Communications, where I’m vice president of strategy and innovation, we’ve decided it’s time to step outside the old boxes and look for a new real estate business model.
To see where that business is, what solutions today’s agents and brokers are using, and where they need help, I decided to attend the giant National Association of Realtors conference in Orlando, FL. I was accompanied by Michael Romaner, our executive vice president of digital.
The show included a full schedule of conference sessions, but for us, the best action was on the expo floor, where several hundred vendors were showing their products and solutions to agents and brokers.
How many agents and brokers? I heard one estimate of 20,000. And NAR has about 1 million members — hundreds in every mid-sized market in America. That’s one reason to believe we should be able to carve out a better business in that space.
Another reason is what we saw on the show floor.
What’s hot in real estate
Imagine several hundred booths, the large majority of which were offering solutions designed to help agents and brokers win customers through digital channels, using digital solutions.
Such as what? We saw and talked to multiple providers in each of these categories: websites, mobile apps, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, lead generation programs, social media marketing solutions, web advertising tools, email solutions, video tools, brokerage management platforms and digital signature services. And more.
If you’re in a local media company that’s taking good digital solutions to market, most of this is familiar. But the tools we saw were designed specifically for the real estate business, and the resulting differences in features and functions were significant.
One of the most crowded product categories was centered on various combinations of a public-facing agent website, with some sort of lead generation tool (“Enter your name, address and email address and get a free estimate of your home’s value!”), with a CRM system and marketing tools behind it.
The CRMs varied a lot in sophistication and price, but all provided tools to manage incoming leads and customer contacts. Some of the CRMs included marketing automation features, so agents could do email “drip campaigns” to prospects and keep track of responses and interactions with each lead.
Between us, Michael and I talked to 60 to 80 vendors, in categories where it seemed we might be able to take these solutions to market in our local communities.
Some of these solutions looked very attractive. We could easily imagine a sophisticated digital real estate ad rep presenting them successfully to local agents and brokers. And very few of these companies have feet on the street in local markets, so that’s where we could fit in.
Many of the vendors have designed their products as DIY solutions for agents and brokers — tools they could adopt and use via the Web without much help from the vendors. But the vendors admitted that most agents and brokers are slow to adopt these digital solutions. They don’t want to spend the time it takes to learn and constantly manage digital marketing, CRMs and effective social media tactics.
Do it for me?
That was another promising sign. If we took the right solutions to our local agents and brokers, offering options of “do-it-yourself,” “do it with me” or “do it for me,” it seems very likely we could help reluctant agents and brokers do what they know they need to do to win in the digital space.
In the last five years or so, many local media companies have done their best to create or become digital advertising and marketing agencies for small and medium businesses in their markets. I described an advanced version of that model in an earlier post. And we’re doing something similar in recruitment at Morris, as described in this post.
It turns out the real estate business calls for the same approach. Our real estate reps would need to be digital real estate specialists, equipped with a suite of the best available real estate solutions, mostly provided through vendor relationships.
We could combine these with SEM, SEO, programmatic display and other digital advertising and marketing solutions we already have. And we would need solutions and packages agents could afford, as well as solutions designed for larger brokerages.
Can we do this? I’m confident we can.
And, if we want to have a future in a world where virtually all advertising and marketing is digital, this is exactly what we need to be doing. The digital solutions will be coming to our markets non-stop. We can either be the ones who bring them, or we can watch our revenues fade away.
And the industry has seen some notable successes. Jason Taylor’s energetic advocacy has lit up many a convention stage since he started as president of the Chattanooga Time Free Press in 2007. And Brent Low, CEO of Utah Media Group in Salt Lake City, has made events a cornerstone of his diversified revenue model since he was publisher in St. George, Utah, more than a decade ago. Read the rest of this entry
Data, data, data. From every direction lately, I’m being hit with urgent reminders about the imperative for local media companies to master data.
Every day, I’m more convinced: This is the next wave of threat — or opportunity — for local media companies. That’s how disruptive innovation works — you either grab the opportunity, or you are overrun by it.
As Big Data marches down upon us, I’m reminded of Longfellow’s poem, “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.” It tells how, on the eve of the American Revolution, patriots gave warning of the British Army’s advance by hanging lanterns in the belfry of Boston’s Old North Church:
“One if by land, two if by sea.”
I’m hanging out three lanterns. Big Data is bearing down on us right now — by land, by sea and from every other direction. Read the rest of this entry
In the fall of 2006, as the Internet was devastating the newspaper industry in earnest, the American Press Institute unveiled a new program to push back against the disruption.
We called the project Newspaper Next, and its first report was called Blueprint for Transformation.
Ten years later, what did it accomplish? And what should we still remember from that body of work? Read the rest of this entry
In the last several weeks, my whole concept of advertising and marketing has been reframed, and I’m still sorting out what it means. But I know this: It has given me a clearer understanding of the path local media companies must take in sales.
Now I’m going to try to work the same kind of reframing on you.
Reframing is what happens when some new fact, or a new interpretation of old facts, reveals a subject in a very different light. It’s often a breakthrough that clarifies your priorities and shows you new ways to overcome your challenges.
And in advertising and marketing, we have more than our share of challenges. Print and broadcast media have been struggling for years to assimilate a bewildering array of new tactics.
The list includes buzz terms like SEM, SEO, targeting, retargeting, social media, video, reputation management, email, native advertising, content marketing, Big Data, programmatic advertising and more. And new ones show up all the time.
This time, let’s go up 100,000 feet for a look across the globe. As the media industry in the developed world struggles, billions of humans elsewhere are moving from information scarcity to full access to the world’s knowledge.
Some time ago, thinking about this strange dichotomy, I tried to come up with a visual metaphor to reflect what’s happening.
I was picturing the globe and its many nations and peoples, and thinking about their drastically unequal access to information. And I was thinking about the rapid and Read the rest of this entry
Let’s try some thought experiments, in the best tradition of Albert Einstein.
The hypothesis we’ll explore is this: That the large, lucrative revenue stream that newspaper companies have enjoyed from major/national advertisers will decline to something approaching zero.
Our thought experiments will examine what we should do about that. Read the rest of this entry
How do you define the mission and purpose of local reporting?
Cover the news? Hold institutions accountable? Maintain a well-informed citizenry? Hold up a mirror to the community? “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable?”
Search around the Web for statements of journalism’s purpose and you’ll find all of the above, and more like them.
And there’s a lot of anxiety these days about the present and future of this mission. With local advertising and circulation revenues spiraling steadily downward, and with newsrooms shrinking along a parallel line, two things are evident. Whatever the mission of local reporting is:
- A lot less of it is happening now.
- Even less will be happening in the future.
In many places in this business, the central question these days is: How can we drive revenue from new sources, so we can keep supporting the functions of journalism that are critical to a free society?
To an extent, I buy that. But there’s also something seriously misguided about it. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been getting a series of demos from Big Data providers as we at Morris Publishing Group work to figure out how we will offer Big Data services to local advertisers.
Just lately, we’ve been getting down into the details. For me, this brought a profound leap in comprehension.
It was like staring into a crystal ball and seeing a monumental event that’s about to change your life. Read the rest of this entry
What could disrupted legacy media companies possibly have in common with Procter & Gamble — the huge and perennially successful consumer goods manufacturer?
One thing we have in common is that we both need to recognize and plan for the continuous loss of revenue from declining products.
We don’t think of P&G as needing to cope with fading products as an endemic part of its business. But 10 years ago, when I was leading the Newspaper Next project for the American Press Institute, I learned that part of their success lies in the careful planning they do to offset those declines.
We in the media business can take an important lesson from P&G’s approach. Read the rest of this entry