Making It On Main Street

One of the best-kept secrets in the online advertising industry is that you don’t have to work in Silicon Alley or Silicon Valley to make it. Whether you want a job in online advertising sales, want to network with others in Internet marketing, or want to grow your local business online, look no further than your own home town.

The Internet advertising and marketing community is sprouting everywhere from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to Bethesda, Maryland — and that’s just in the United States. Go to Toronto or Tel Aviv, and the story’s the same. There’s an active community alive and ready to tap.

What makes me so sure? I live and work in Arlington, Virginia, a town known for the Arlington Cemetery and Iwo Jima Memorial, not Internet advertising. When I first started writing and researching on this topic from my Arlington location, people wanted to know what the heck I was doing in Virginia. Didn’t I need to be in New York City to keep my finger on the pulse?

Maybe it was because my horse wouldn’t fit in a Soho apartment, or maybe it’s because my wardrobe wasn’t hip enough. But I stayed in my Virginia suburb strip malls and all.

It’s a funny thing: No one asks me why I’m here any more. Today, northern Virginia has a vibrant online advertising community. We have our own ad-marketing email list. We have a growing number of organizations from the New Media Society to the Netpreneur Program. We even have the best job board around through the DC Webgrrls. It’s such an active community that my company produces a locally focused “Advertising and Marketing on the Internet” conference every year.

My town is not unique. Baltimore, Maryland is taking off as well. Just listen to local talk radio in Baltimore and you’ll hear plugs on the virtues of online marketing.

And let’s take Philadelphia. The Liberty City is teaming with local advertising opportunities from Digital City Philadelphia to, not to mention all the county portals like Alivenet and local ISP sites such as Libertynet. They have a slate of local organizations too: Eastern Technology Council and the Internet Business Alliance.

Life Is Greener In Your Own Backyard

If all this is percolating in cities and suburbs around the country, why aren’t you seeing this local contingent as a major force on the national landscape? There are three major reasons.

  • First, if your focus is local or regional, why should you need to travel by plane or train to learn how to reach the folks in your own backyard — virtually or in person? Local folks stay local.
  • Second, for the small business owner, convenience is king, and leaving town is never convenient. These folks network close to home. If you only look nationally, you won’t see all the local stuff going on.
  • And finally, the local and regional community doesn’t have extra cash to spend on expensive national conferences. By the time you add up the conference fee, travel, hotel, and food, one conference can equal a small business’s entire marketing budget.

The needs, concerns and constraints of the growing local online advertising and marketing community are different than the Fortune 100 companies. The big boys can send staff to this conference and that meeting and never feel the financial pinch. The local community is watching every dime and working hard to make a go of it just where they are.

The Internet industry as a whole is in love with the lore of Fortune 100 companies. It’s as if only they count when listing clients and advertisers. And yet, it’s all the local companies doing local advertising in cities and towns throughout the country that keep the advertising industry a float.

Our Internet advertising industry is no different. Many of our great resources are located off the beaten track. The search engine guru Eric Ward of Netpost runs his operation out of Knoxville, Tennessee, and even our own ClickZ comes to you from the quaint New England town of Andover, Massachusetts. So if you think you need to measure industry growth to gauge where you should be located, stop worrying so much about Madison Avenue and start focusing on Main Street.

Related reading