Gannett/Tribune-Owned Metromix Aims for Local Bar and Restaurant Advertisers

Tribune Co. and Gannett Co. have partnered again, this time splitting ownership of the originally Tribune-owned Metromix local entertainment sites. The publishers are hiring local dedicated salespeople in various regions, and Tribune Interactive has built out a small, dedicated national sales force based in major markets across the country. Site sponsorships, mobile ads and newsletter ads are among the formats available to advertisers.

The 50/50 ownership deal gives the growing network of youth-focused properties additional local sales opportunities, and should help Metromix woo national advertisers demanding reach across several markets. The deal provides “a broader footprint for the national team,” said Metromix CEO Kara Walsh. “We need all major markets, which this deal moves us towards,” she added.

The joint venture expects to roll out into 28 Gannett newspaper and broadcast markets and seven Tribune broadcast markets, including Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Seattle and Washington, D.C. By the end of next year, Metromix should have a local presence in 25 of the top 30 markets, said Walsh. A handful of Metromix sites currently exist for Baltimore, Chicago, Connecticut, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando and South Florida.

Remaining top markets could be served through additional partnerships, added Walsh. However, she told ClickZ News, longtime Gannett/Tribune Web partner McClatchy Company is unlikely to be a partner in the Metromix business. The three large newspaper publishers are still working on a joint online ad network which made headlines early this year. Walsh said she is familiar with the ongoing project, adding, “Good progress is being made.”

Recruitment ads for a local Hartford, Connecticut Metromix account executive and another for a Metromix online sales specialist at the Sun-Sentinel can be found on CareerBuilder, the job site owned by Gannett, McClatchy, Tribune and Microsoft. “The Sales Specialist will work closely with the Sun-Sentinel print staff to maximize revenue and efficiencies and continually introduce new product enhancements and programs to print sales teams and advertisers,” notes the ad for the South Florida sales position. The sales rep will target eateries, bars, clubs, “and other entertainment venues,” it adds.

Around 12 national salespeople in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere are pushing Metromix’s ad offerings to large advertisers, said Walsh. Standard display ads dominate the sites now, but other rich media formats such as video pre-roll, sponsored links and sponsorships are available. High-definition television channel Mojo ran a homepage “skin” sponsorship on Metromix’s L.A. homepage on Friday, which entailed customizing the page’s color scheme for the advertiser.

Metromix’s young 21- to 34-year-old audience demographic and the local focus of its entertainment guide sites already narrows ad targeting for advertisers. However, the site does offer behavioral targeting through a relationship with AOL’s Tacoda, and more refined contextual targeting within subsections such as music. The network also offers ads in e-mail newsletters and sends targeted e-mail notices on behalf of advertisers on a “very selective” basis to users, according to Walsh. Ads are available on the Chicago, Baltimore and Orlando mobile editions, too.

The sites also plan to sell enhanced business listings featuring coupons or specials later this year. Rather than partnering with a yellow pages publisher or another local business listings provider, Metromix is building its own database of local restaurants, bars and other nightspots for its sites, which also include upcoming event, music, movie and TV listings. “We needed a lot of flexibility with how we can use the data,” Walsh said.

The network is also partnering to enable social features. In conjunction with social tools platform VMix, Metromix will allow users to upload video and create profiles on the sites. Earlier this year, VMix began incorporating its user-generated content platform on Tribune Interactive’s newspaper sites, including LATimes.com, enabling additional data for audience segmentation based on content categories, zip code, gender, and who’s viewing and uploading what content.

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