New Townhall.com Takes Talk Radio to the Netroots

When Christian radio broadcaster and publisher Salem Communications snapped up conservative news and community site Townhall.com in April, political consultants speculated it could be just the place to reach a broad spectrum of conservative voters. Conservative talk radio has long been credited with helping to build an important base for Republicans.

Yesterday Townhall.com relaunched, combining Salem talk radio audio content with news and opinion as well as blogging, social networking and political action tools. Site owners believe the mix could make for a site that’s ripe for advertisers looking to reach clued-in right-wingers — just in time for this year’s Congressional elections.

“Talk radio is the sleeping giant of the online world. If the new Townhall is successful in bridging the gap between talk radio and the blogosphere, it will be something very big and very significant to conservatives everywhere,” suggested Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini.

Townhall.com General Manager Chuck DeFeo affirmed the site’s ambitions, saying, “We’re connecting the grassroots media of the blogosphere and talk radio.” Although the broader Salem network reaches Christian evangelicals through properties like spiritual community site Crosswalk.com and Christian music print publication CCM Magazine, the Townhall.com audience is primarily interested in politics and current events, according to DeFeo.

“I think we’ll continue to stay in the political content arena,” noted DeFeo, a former Bush/Cheney ’04 presidential e-campaign manager.

Still, by including branded channels dedicated to Salem talk radio hosts featuring streaming show audio clips, free podcasts and exclusive Web audio, the site is bound to expand its audience beyond the its traditional secular readership of fiscal conservatives. Townhall.com reaches 1.2 million visitors, and the Salem radio network reaches six million listeners on 300 stations. The entire Salem network of sites attracts an average of five million unique visitors monthly.

According to DeFeo, the site will offer standard IAB ad units along with larger offerings such as “The Monster,” a 425×600 format, and homepage takeover ads that expand from 980×40 to 980×300. No audio ads are being offered at this time. Advertisers can target based on ZIP codes provided through user registration as well as user preferences and previous site interactions.

“We have advertised with Salem in the past and we will certainly look at these properties as part of a broad-based online advertising strategy in 2006 and beyond,” said Ruffini. The RNC ran ads on Crosswalk.com leading up to the 2004 Presidential election.

Townhall.com also sends out Townhall.com branded “Spotlight” emails to its newsletter subscribers on behalf of advertisers. This week the National Republican Congressional Committee sent a message to the site’s subscribers to raise awareness regarding the importance of this year’s elections. The Center for Union Facts, an anti-union nonprofit group, has sent an email to Townhall.com registrants linking to a video about union abuses.

Not all site advertisers have political objectives, however. “We don’t do anything political, ever,” commented Alycia Schlesinger, director of Internet marketing for Manhattan West Mortgage, a California-based financial services firm that planned on running its first ad campaign on Townhall.com in conjunction with the new launch. Rotating homepage ads will promote the company’s MortgageMinuteGuy.com site, the Web home to Manhattan West’s president and founder, Roger Schlesinger, a regular advertiser on Salem’s Hugh Hewitt radio show since 1999.

“The thing about (Hugh Hewitt’s) following is it’s a very strong, loyal following,” said Alycia Schlesinger, Roger’s daughter, who hopes to connect with that same audience by advertising on the new site. Her father will also be writing financial advice columns three times each week for Townhall.com.

The site will let users vote on the over 100 opinion columns featured on the site from well-known firebrands like Ann Coulter, David Horowitz and John Stossel. User action tools available on the older site version that enable users to contact elected officials, write letters to editors and sign petitions, will remain.

In an effort to get users involved with contributing to the site’s content and robust commentary offerings, Townhall.com will let them create their own blogs, content from which will be highlighted on the homepage. The re-launched site also takes a cue from the Bush/Cheney ’04 campaign site’s “Virtual Precincts,” a system that allows registrants to build their own email lists and send out newsletters to their individual groups.

Now, stressed DeFeo, not only will readers find news and conservative commentary from recognizable pundits, they’ll be able to get it “from real Americans out there.”

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