In Deal With Advance, Microsoft Gets Its Own Newspaper Consortium

Microsoft is putting its ad space and technology into the hands of Advance Internet’s local ad sellers as part of an arrangement that closely resembles Yahoo’s newspaper consortium. The pairing is meant to increase the amount of local ad inventory Advance Internet’s teams can sell, while extending Microsoft’s feet on the street to a new group of sales reps.

Advance Internet publishes 30 regional and newspaper sites, including local news portals include NJ.com, Al.com, Cleveland.com.

Under the relationship, Advance becomes a certified reseller of Microsoft Media Network. MMN includes both Microsoft-owned sites and ad network properties, and reaches approximately 76 percent of U.S. online adults, according to ComScore.

Advance will be able to reach in-market consumers by vertical through Microsoft’s behavioral targeting capabilities. It will also implement Microsoft’s Content Ads and search ads on its own network. Advance Internet’s sister unit, Condé Nast Digital, runs the Web properties affiliated with magazines such as Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Wired, among others. Those magazine sites are not included in the Microsoft relationship.

“The local perspective is very important to Microsoft Advertising and we are excited to expand on our reseller efforts,” said Brian Handly, general manager, PubCenter, Microsoft, in an e-mailed statement. Handly said the companies had been in talks since early 2009.

The relationship is not exclusive to Advance Internet, but expanding it to other newspaper partners could complicate Microsoft’s dealings with Yahoo as the two prepare to enact the huge search outsourcing deal they struck two weeks ago. That’s because Yahoo has its own much more grandiose newspaper industry ambitions — ambitions that, according to some analysts, are likely to accelerate now that the company no longer has to worry about search R&D.

“Some internal political issues might arise, especially if it is deemed to compromise the much more important relationship with Yahoo,” noted Kelsey Group VP and local advertising expert Peter Krasilovsky in a blog post discussing the deal. Yahoo’s newspaper consortium had approximately 800 paper partners at last count. Those newspapers partner with Yahoo to sell regionally-targeted display ads on Yahoo properties, and open their own inventory to national advertisers sold through Yahoo.

As with Yahoo’s newspaper consortium, training will play an important part in the relationship between Microsoft and Advance. According to Peter Weinberger, president of Advance Internet, an internal training team will go out to each of its online affiliates.

“Microsoft has committed to assist us in the training process,” he said.

However training is somewhat less of an issue for Microsoft and Advance than it is for Yahoo and its consortium partners. That’s because Advance has not pledged to use Microsoft’s ad management tools to serve ads, as Yahoo’s partners have pledged to do with its Apt ad platform. Rather, Advance will stick with its preferred partner, 24/7 Real Media.

Advance Internet’s ad sales are still kept separate from the newspaper and print sales teams at Advance Publications. As the Microsoft relationship progresses, Weinberger said the goal is to bring those reps in as well.

“We hope soon some newspaper sales reps who are proficient in online sales will begin to sell into the Microsoft Media Network,” he said. Until then, he suggested print sellers may find ways to direct potential online ad dollars to Advance’s sales teams and from there on to Microsoft. “Our online local sales teams work very closely with their affiliated papers.”

According to Ken Doctor, lead news analyst at media market research firm Outsell, the future of local ads on the Web depends on how fast newspaper sellers can get up to speed on how to sell on platforms such as Apt and MMN.

“How do you re-train “order-takers” for the new world order of selling targeting, networks and re-messaging?” Doctor wrote in a blog post yesterday. “It’s a race of turtles to some degree, but it is to those competing turtles that… Yahoo and Microsoft have turned, as ironic as that is in lots of ways.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Advance Internet includes magazine Web sites owned by Condé Nast. In fact, those sites are part of its sister unit, Condé Nast Digital.

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