Despite Perceived Rift with Google, Newspapers Promote Search Ads

Reports out of the Newspaper Association of America’s annual convention this week focused on the perceived drama between newspaper publishers and Google. Observers have been fixed on the rifts between the search firm and newspaper publishers, which some say suffer because of search engine-facilitated distribution of their content. However, the NAA itself at the San Diego event promoted search engine marketing as a potential revenue stream for its member publishers.

During a presentation Monday, the NAA’s SVP Business Development Randy Bennett, along with VP Advertising Mort Goldstrom, suggested a variety of ways newspaper firms can enhance their digital ad offerings. Among their recommendations: search engine marketing services.

“We bring you more qualified leads at a greater value in an instant — by placing your ad on top search engines,” noted a page on Hearst-owned featured in the presentation. The Houston Chronicle’s offers things like paid search campaign management, keyword list building, ad creation, and reporting services to its advertisers, according to its site. Such services benefit the likes of Google.

The NAA also included search marketing as a topic in its Digital Media Advertising Toolkit, released in February as a guide to its publisher members. “The power of search-based, video, mobile and online advertising to drive revenue for newspaper companies is impressive, and newspapers that focus on increasing this revenue will surely be better off for the efforts,” notes the guide’s introduction.

Goldstrom told ClickZ News today that newspaper firms should consider offering several ad products and services, including search. The product arsenal ought to be complete, he said, noting that small and medium businesses need help with a wide range of marketing capabilities.

“There’s a variety of options that need to be thought of for those kinds of businesses. Search blends in with the self-service models and the telesales models that [newspapers] have explored,” said Goldstrom.

The Associated Press, a cooperative of hundreds of newspaper publishers, caused a stir Monday when it said it plans to crack down on what it called “misappropriation” of its online news content. The organization said it would develop new search pages that direct users to breaking news. The announcement was largely viewed by observers as a direct attack on Google, which sometimes points users to non-AP affiliated sites featuring AP news stories.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt spoke Tuesday at the conference, spurring more commentary about the complicated relationship between newspapers and the search giant.

Analysts suggest that offering search marketing services and products could create a viable revenue stream for newspaper firms. However, there are obstacles. For one, yellow pages publishers — also going after elusive local small business ad dollars — have already integrated SEM services into their ad offerings in recent years.

“The challenge becomes how are you going to make the product different from others?” said Sterling Market Intelligence Analyst Greg Sterling. He also suggested many local businesses that might be interested in bundled SEM products remain uneducated about search marketing and how to measure its value.

“They’re way behind the yellow pages,” said Kelsey Group VP and Program Director of Marketplaces Peter Krasilovsky, in regards to newspaper firms and their ability to sell search services. Their sales staffs are “really oriented around large buys, typically banner on the online side, or full page [print ads],” he continued.

Krasilovsky believes newspapers need to branch out their online ad offerings, and “Search has to be big part of it.” Still, he continued, “They don’t necessarily have to work with Google on every part of the solution.”

Several newspaper firms have partnered with the second-largest search firm, Yahoo, to enhance their display ad reach and employment classifieds. Yet, these Newspaper Consortium deals do not include services that would easily connect paper advertisers with Yahoo’s search advertising. “That’s always been a strange weakness over at Yahoo,” said Sterling.

“We must empower our sales staffs to sell our full portfolio of print and digital products — giving them the right tools, training and incentives. Also, think of the possibilities of harnessing that large, local sales staff to sell on behalf of others and share revenues,” said NAA Chairman and McClatchy President and CEO Gary Pruitt. “The untapped potential of local digital advertising in each of our markets is why internet giants like Yahoo and Google seek partnerships with newspapers. We need to mine that local digital revenue stream. We can’t afford to fumble the opportunity.”

Pruitt told the NAA audience online ad revenues account for 15 percent of McClatchy’s ad revenues, and that the $200 million in digital revenue the firm expects to collect this year will come at a higher profit margin than its print business.

The NAA presentation also recommended newspaper firms consider digital ad products like rich media ad units, online contests, mobile advertising and lead generation, and micro-sites. A sign of the times, the organization also suggested its members provide “reverse value add” offers to advertisers, meaning they should offer free print ads with the purchase of Web ads. In earlier days, newspapers gave away Web ads when advertisers bought their print products.

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