How to make money on mobile

Sounds like a great session for a publishers’ conference, doesn’t it? It’s a big topic for local media businesses these days, as mobile web traffic surpasses desktop traffic for more and more newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations.

mobile - smallerThat’s why I spent an afternoon searching the Web recently. I was looking for a speaker who could nail this topic for an upcoming conference of a major U.S. newspaper association.

After a couple of hours, I gave up.

I had no problem finding people who were opining on what publishers should do on mobile. The supply seemed unlimited. But all of them were talking about how to get their own content read or consumed (video) on mobile.

As for making money, the only idea anyone seemed to have was banner ads.

Banner ads on mobile. Yuck.

Not that we shouldn’t try to get our content consumed on mobile. We absolutely should.

And not that we shouldn’t sell banner ads on mobile. We should.

But the money to be made there is minuscule. It will definitely grow a lot in the coming years — and even then, it will still be minuscule.

Okay, then, where can local media find a real revenue opportunity in mobile?

There is one. But it’s not about our content on mobile.

It’s about our advertisers’ presence on mobile. And our non-advertisers, too — the large majority of businesses in our markets that don’t use traditional media to reach customers.

Because what is mobile, really? It’s how consumers find stuff they want to buy, things they want to do, and answers to questions that arise on the spot and in the moment.

Mobile isn’t a channel. It isn’t really a device. It’s a series of circumstances in which people try to find the next thing they want or need.

Where is a hardware store near me? What’s the highest-rated restaurant nearby? What are the hours at the dry cleaners?

Local businesses desperately need to be found in those mobile moments, when consumers are looking for the things they sell or the services they provide.

The searches that used to be done in the yellow pages, or on the desktop, or even by asking friends, are being done more and more on mobile devices, right at the time of need.

Whatever the business is, there’s a limited number of opportunities in any given day, week or year when someone in the local market looks for what they do. More and more of those opportunities are happening on mobile devices.

If a business can’t be found on mobile, isn’t mobile-friendly when found, or doesn’t make its case powerfully on mobile, those opportunities are going to their competition.

That’s where we, as local media people, come in. We need to remind ourselves that we have always made most of our money by helping local retailers and services get found and win the business.

Helping them get found and win the business on mobile is our biggest revenue opportunity in this new space.

Our content isn’t a big factor in this. On mobile, people trying to find a restaurant or a vacuum cleaner belt don’t start out by reading a news story.

They start out by doing a search. So, for local businesses, mobile resembles the yellow pages more than it does newspapers, magazines, radio or television. And, as in the yellow pages, the end of the search is a piece of content presented by the business itself.

The consumer does a search, touches a link, and BANG! — she’s on the website of a business she may choose to patronize.

That’s why our money-making opportunity in mobile is not about our content — it’s about helping local businesses make THEIR content powerful. When found, businesses need to present better content, more content, more engaging content than ever before.

We’re in a new era of direct contact between consumers and businesses, without the aid of a media intermediary. But this doesn’t mean we’re not needed.

It means we’re needed for different things. Most businesses have little knowledge or capacity to do what’s required to win on mobile. They need help.

Our services for mobile must include:

  • Website design that looks and works great on mobile.
  • Search-engine optimization that makes the website pop in mobile searches.
  • Facts on the site that provide exactly what the consumer needs in a mobile moment, like hours, address, phone, map, etc.
  • Content that closes the deal — engagingly produced text, images and video that show why the business is a great choice.
  • For larger businesses, paid search and maybe programmatic banner advertising on frequently used mobile sites (like Facebook) to drive up site traffic.

We can also provide ancillary services, like promotions (in-store events, contests, games, puzzles, surveys) and marketing (email campaigns, social media management, search profile management).

Not coincidentally, this list does not include selling banners on our own mobile-friendly sites. We can do that, too, but it’s secondary or even tertiary. The real action for local businesses is in how their own media are presented in and after searches, not in little ads on mobile news pages.

This opportunity is huge. Just about every business in our markets needs help to create a powerful presence in mobile — not just those who currently advertise with us.

If we take off the blinders of our old model — ads alongside our own content — we can see the big opportunity on the little device in every consumer’s hand.


Posted on July 12, 2015, in Advertising, Audience, Content, Digital media sales, Disruption, innovation, Media business model, media management, Mobile, News, Revenue, Sales and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Well said, Steve, it’s about Getting Found. Local small businesses need all the help they can get, and by local media companies shifting their myopic vision away from type and toward the actual businesses in their community, they can build a relationship that can grow.

    Media outlets must become digital marketing experts. If they are to survive, the mindset must change. No longer is it about news and ads, it’s about modeling one’s business to the ever-changing environment. With the consumer clearly in charge, du largely to the smartphone appendage most people have grown, they call the shots. It’s up to savvy marketers to help the business Get Found by the needy consumer.

    Solutions like online presence, reputation marketing, social media interaction and mobile technologies like NFC and Beacon marketing, social wifi and yes, SMS will bring the struggling small business into the competitive field. Media outlets can and should offer these and other services not mentioned here.

    As a digital marketing agency specifically focused on small and medium sized businesses, it’s my job to help them flourish. I teach them about their competitors and how to monitor them, while at the same time provide tools and tips to drive customers, revenues and build loyalty.

    If print media is to survive they must shake off the shackles of what used to be, and move toward digital technologies to serve their business communities.


  2. Another solid post, Steve.

    Local media companies have a tremendous opportunity to leverage their existing brand awareness to build up a new, comprehensive, local business resource that can compete with Google, Facebook and Yelp.

    I believe they need to stop trying to extend their brands if they’re to be successful though, and launch new brands that are community business focused.

    The effort needs to be more than just a section buried within their existing websites.

    Newspapers can become the champions for local businesses, using their editorial resources to produce content around the importance of supporting local businesses, and telling the stories of the entrepreneurs in their community.

    At the same time, they can provide local businesses with services that help them to be found on the web, mobile and social media, sell online and do other push marketing.

    The goodwill they build by advocating for local business interests, and the brand awareness they generate for their new local business brand will go a long way toward helping them close deals with business owners.

    If you’re still looking for a speaker, I’d be happy to help paint a picture for your audience.

    The industry needs good news, and I believe it could be a lot simpler and easier than a lot of the alternatives that have been in focus for the past decade or so.


  3. Molly Lapekas

    Great headline, but after reading this I’m not clear about what you’re saying. I gather that this article is specifically about how LOCAL MEDIA outlets can “Make money on mobile”. So HOW do you think newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations can make money on mobile?

    If I’m reading you correctly you believe that local media can make money:

    1.) Designing mobile websites.

    2.) Providing SEO services.

    3.) Providing maps and business directories.

    4.) Producing text, image and video content for local businesses.

    5. For larger businesses help them produce content for platforms like Facebook.


    Are local newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations uniquely qualified to do ANY of these things? Skip “uniquely”. Are they AT ALL qualified to provide any of these services? Do local businesses currently perceive local media outlets as “the obvious best source” for ANY of these services?

    It stretches the imagination that anyone would answer yes to any of those questions. But let’s say the answer is yes to all of them. How much do you think local businesses will PAY local media outlets for those mobile services? Will it be enough to keep the presses rolling? Enough to keep the broadcast stations on the air as consumers’ content consumption habits continue to turn away from conventional media?

    I have a pretty good idea of the answer to that. I’ve been selling mobile advertising to local businesses as part of a venture project. My team knows how to develop and produce highly effective location-triggered mobile campaigns and ads, campaigns that drive new business, ads with conversion rates that put local print and TV to shame. I probably know how to make mobile digital marketing effective because I HAVE NOT spent the last decade clinging desperately to a dying business model. But there’s a tiny tiny problem selling mobile advertising to local SMBs: it’s the tiny, tiny amount of money they are willing to pay for mobile marketing. Local businesses that pay $1-2,000 a month for print ads (in newspapers and magazines that hardly anyone reads) or $2.500-10,000 a month for local TV ads (on channels and programs that often have demographics nearly devoid of anyone under 35) are willing to pay $2-300 per month for mobile marketing. And that’s if I spend (which I’m doing as a large-scale experiment) $500-1000 per month per advertiser to give them free mobile campaign strategy consultation, free professional production services and free analytics services.

    Can my mobile marketing venture figure out how to slash mobile marketing costs and maybe up our prices a little? I believe we can. It will take a couple years and require substantial capital. Do local media outlets have any clue about how to master the challenges of mobile? I see no evidence that they have the know-how OR the capital required. And there’s one thing I’m becoming VERY sure of: there is NO WAY conventional local media (with the possible exception of radio, which is still quite effective in local markets) will EVER replace the kind of advertising revenue they are addicted to with revenue from mobile advertising.

    Mobile is highly likely to finish the job of killing off most local print, and it’s likely to severely punish local TV. If you disagree, please start by explaining why local advertisers would even THINK of turning to local media outlets for ANY of the 5 things on your list.

    Molly Lapekas


    • Hey Molly,
      you’re absolutely correct as far as I’m concerned. News salespeople are trained in the call it art of selling print ads, and that’s why they have found it difficult to sell digital. As I mentioned in my original comments to Steve, they need to shift focus if they wish to survive. What they are missing is the fact that they have a solid business book of clients that still need to be in front of the customers. Customers have switched from reading the paper to selectively choosing from where they get their news.

      Take the millennials for example. They might click a link on something that is part of the social conversations they are tuned into, but sit in front of the tv watching NewsHour? Or having a 7 day subscription to the New York Times? I don’t think so.

      Local news media outlets need to wake up and smell the new brew. It’s digital man, digital.


      • Molly and David,

        I’d invite you to read many of my other posts. I have been calling for years for local media companies to create separate sales teams focused entirely on digital.

        We have done that at Morris, and our people ARE able to sell digital solutions very effectively, and with remarkable customer retention rates.

        Why would local advertisers turn to us? Well, we find that our customers are quite pleased to be able to do business with our digital-savvy salespeople who live in and understand their markets, and whose parent business they know well. We live in the same cities as they do, and we provide excellent followup attention after the sale. We’re there when they need us.

        Sure, the money is a lot less than print. So what? Thousands of customers need these services. Just like you, Molly, we are figuring out how to provide those services on a cost-effective basis, providing good ROI for our customers and a reasonable margin for ourselves.

        You can count us out if you like, but we’re in it for the long haul.


      • Hey Steve,

        I spent some time reading some of your other posts; good stuff. If it is okay with you, I would like to re-publish some of your work in my LocalMarketing.Today digital magazine from time to time. I curate pertinent info specifically geared to local small and medium sized businesses, and your work is extremely relevant to much more than media outlets.

        Oh, if you are ever looking for a speaker, you can check out my linkedin profile. I love to present on digital, mobile and reputation marketing, and have written several pieces on these and other subjects.

        Here’s to Local!


      • David,

        I’d be happy to have you link to my site or any specific posts. But I would ask you not to post whole texts.




  4. This discussion is very interesting. I think many of Molly’s points are valid – Steve is identifying things that have value to SMBs in terms of driving local business through mobile devices. Everything he points out is true, but it has little or nothing to do with any of local media’s core competencies.

    To identify how traditional media can successfully play in the mobile advertising space, you have to start with what local media (presumably) does well or has in its toolkit that can provide value to the mobile channel;

    1. A competent ad sales teams
    2. Rich data on SMBs in every sector who have advertised in the past
    3. Local eyeballs (readership / circulation)
    4. The ability to write & distribute compelling editorial that creates broad public awareness / visibility around a subject
    5. A strong, well known & respected brand (they can get people to pick up the phone).
    6. An effective periodic billing system with collections & customer retention resources

    These are skill-sets designed for sales and driving consumer awareness / consumption of content.

    They are also exactly the skill sets that most technology startups lack. There are literally thousands of startups in the mobile technology space that have great products / services that businesses and consumers would love. The vast majority of these startups don’t have the expertise or capital to properly sell, market or promote their product and so they eventually fail.

    It’s potentially a match made in heaven. Traditional media groups should seek out exciting local tech starts and identify the best mobile products & services for the local SMB / consumer market. They should take an equity stake in exchange for handling sales & marketing and then use their sales team to sell the product (taking a healthy margin) and their publications to create visibility and adoption for the product.

    I’ll give you a great example. There is a local startup in the Tampa area called City Sleekers (and no I’m not affiliated with them in any way, except I’m a customer). They are a mobile, waterless car washing service. They have an app that allows you to schedule a cash wash anytime / anywhere and to pay for the service with a credit card or apple pay. It’s an amazing, time saving, environmentally sound service built by two college students. They need a professional sales team and they need a marketing program to drive visibility in the local market – but they don’t have the capital they need to execute (at this time). If a local media company (preferably with both print & broadcast) partnered with them, they could almost guarantee the success of the company locally, which would provide the pilot case to raise significant capital, drive regional / national expansion and eventually a successful exit. The media company could make money selling the service and trading ad inventory / editorial (or advertorial) for equity and then “clean up” when City Sleekers exits (see what I did there?) 🙂

    There are at least 50 similar startups just in the Tampa Bay area alone that I am aware of that would benefit from such a partnership. And guess what? People of all ages are interested in startups and the stories behind them. Imagine a new section in the local newspaper tucked in between the Business and Local sections called “Startups” that tells the stories of local entrepreneurs (and the products they are creating). This would be an opportunity for the local papers to create original, high value content that people can’t easily find anywhere else, that could have a reviving effect for the paper’s relevance & circulation – especially if it featured human interest stories on local entrepreneurs (think 1 Million Cups but in the paper)

    Media companies that adopted such a strategy would immediately find themselves at the center of the local startup scene and directly allied with dozens of highly visible organizations seeking to support, educate & find funding for local startups.

    It will be interesting to see who tries this first…

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Street Fight Daily: Google Tests Direct Hotel Booking, Yelp Sued By Delivery Drivers | Street Fight

Leave a Reply to David Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: