As the online advertising industry rebounds, sponsorships will surely be some of the most important vehicles.
Sunshine is finally breaking through the clouds.
According to market research company GartnerG2, online advertising will double in the next few years, even as other forms of advertising remain stagnant.
Gartner's 2001 estimate of $7.9 billion in online ad spending was on the high side. Estimates from 17 firms contacted by eMarketer ranged from $4.7 billion to $12.6 billion, with most estimates falling between $6 and $8 billion.
But from here, it looks a lot like one of those hockey stick formations from the 1990s. Gartner figures the Internet will bring in $11.4 billion this year, $14.7 billion next year, then $17.2 billion, and $18.8 billion in 2005.
To give you some idea of what those figures mean, consider that Media Life magazine estimates that the four TV networks drew $15.3 billion in billings last year, and cable drew $11.4 billion. (It should be noted that the magazine had online billings for 2001 at $4.3 billion, far below other estimates.)
Getting your share of this growing pie will take more than fancy ad formats. When MSNBC.com lays off 9 percent of its workers while its audience is hitting record highs, you know that aiming at cost-per-thousand (CPM) buyers won't work either.
Instead, I suggest you focus on something ClickZ has done well since its inception -- sponsorships.
But a sponsor should get more than a premium place on the page (although I could use one next to my smiling face, hint, hint). If you're running a content site, sponsors are absolutely vital.
This means you should never have more than one sponsor in a category. You should share market research with your sponsors and even conduct some studies for free. You should support them in all online formats (especially email) and solicit their input on topics for your editorial calendar.
In other words, you should be a custodian of your best customers' brands. Don't just take their money -- make them partners.
Part of the reason this relationship should be unique is because sponsors pay up front. They make a quarterly (or better yet, yearly) commitment not just to your ad space but also to your editorial mission. Your sponsors should all produce products and services aimed at your audience.
So far, so easy. But how do you find sponsors in 2002?
I'd start by looking at the kinds of products you should be advertising. If you need help, pick up a magazine in your niche and do a content analysis. Sort the ads by category, and go back several months so that you'll pick up names that have cut back with today's hard times.
Next, take aim at the companies that are second, third, or fourth in their product categories. They should listen to your pitch, which is that being your site's sponsor will make them unique in their market, giving them enormous visibility for a modest cost.
Compare the cost of being your sponsor with the price of a schedule of ads in any magazine covering your industry or lifestyle. That should get their attention.
This is not an easy sell. It should be aimed at the companies' marketing departments, not their ad buyers. You might want to work directly with their ad agencies.
You'll probably get a lot of doors slammed in your face this way, but if you can make just one brand manager happy, just one, you'll not just survive the months ahead, but the experience will give you the skills needed to prosper in the years ahead.
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Dana Blankenhorn has been a business reporter for more than 20 years. He has written parts of five books and currently contributes to Advertising Age, Business Marketing, NetMarketing, the Chicago Tribune, Boardwatch, CLEC Magazine, and other publications. His own newsletter, A-Clue.Com, is published weekly.
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