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Like many newspaper conglomerates, Gannett has struggled with "going digital" in the midst of dwindling print revenues. As VP and GM of the Gannett Digital Media Network (GDN) Josh Resnik's job is to help ensure that the company's transition to digital is a lucrative one.
GDN encompasses the flagship USAToday.com and all of Gannett’s local newspaper and TV station websites. We caught up with Resnik to get a read on how GDN is handling increased competition on the local ad front, what the company thinks about iAds, and even a glimpse into the crystal ball for 2011.
Congrats on the positive earnings report for Q3, which showed digital ad revenues were up across “virtually all” segments of the business. What’s the value proposition that keeps bringing online advertisers back?
We can deliver national reach through USA Today and targeted properties like MomsLikeMe.com and HighSchoolSports.net, but we can also go deep locally, with more than 100 sites related to our newspapers and TV stations. When you add up all the properties, that's more than 49 million uniques and over a billion page views each month. Significant scale.
There’s also a certain level of trust that makes our local brands, especially, resonate with consumers.
The local territory seems particularly valuable, but GDN is facing competition from hyperlocal startups, well-funded ventures like AOL’s Patch, as well as review sites like Yelp. How are you “protecting” that turf?
By making sure that our local sites provide the right kinds of content in the formats that our audience needs. For example, The CinciNavigator is a map-based tool for our Cincinnati.com readers. It compiles info from public databases – property sales, arrest records, etc. – and displays it graphically. It’s a great way for someone to understand what’s happening, literally, in their neighborhood.
Separately, our HighSchoolSports.net is a collection of pages devoted to individual high schools and their sports teams. People can see video, photos and have content targeted to their favorite team, neighborhood or zip code, and that's about as hyperlocal as you can get. And where it makes sense, we’ll integrate ratings and reviews in our local content.
But I’d still go back to the notion of the strength of our local brands. The Des Moines Register has been around for over 100 years. You can’t replace that kind of brand equity overnight.
That’s consumers. How do you keep attracting local advertisers when there are so many shiny new sites also promising local eyeballs?
Well, we have two different ways to sell across the network: locally and nationally. So we can come up with a cross-platform solution for a national advertiser that a purely local site can’t. We can create a custom package that includes print, broadcast, online, mobile, and even find people in elevators in a specific region through our Captivate [digital OOH] Network, if they want them.
Definitely a value proposition, but selling cross-platform for most publishers is much easier said than done. If it’s going to really attract media-buyers, a cross-platform buy needs to be dead simple. What’s that process like at GDN?
We’re getting to a place where we’re able to identify the components – whether they're digital, print or mobile – and turn a campaign around for a buyer much faster than we were a year ago. It’s still not as turnkey as we’d like it to be, but there’s far less effort on the back end for us and them.
Some media companies have taken on the role of an “agency” for their clients, partly to help expedite those kinds of buys. Meredith Integrated Marketing is the most obvious example. Are you offering ad creation solutions as a way to maintain those advertiser relationships?
We don’t have a single division that serves as an “agency.” PointRoll works very closely with marketers, ContentOne is focused on content generation and distribution at scale, and ShopLocal is focused on retailers, but GDN works with all of those divisions to create unique, content-based ad solutions.
An example would be a recent back-to-school effort. We created a custom microsite within MomsLikeMe.com that was all about back to school, with some local content from ContentOne. ShopLocal provided product offers from Kohl's weekly circulars, and then moms could customize shopping lists directly from products within the site. That's cross-platform, integrated and scalable.
So what will your focus be on in 2011 in terms of monetization?
Two things: Targeted audience segments - like moms or parents - and devices. There's so much going on with mobile content, especially. We expect to build up USA Today's presence on a variety of devices in 2011, including Google TV. I just saw a demo of USA Today for Google TV, and, I really think that device is going to change the way all content owners think about TV. We'll also scale out more of our local content for devices as well.
Last question. Lots of publishers have salivated over the iAd. Your thoughts on whether it has lived up to the hype?
We haven’t worked with the iAd yet, partly because we have the fortune of being tied to PointRoll, and they've developed some great ad units for the iPhone and iPad already.
I’ll be very interested in seeing where that marketplace goes in 2011. Apple is good. The iPad and iPhone are good, but the difficulty in designing an ad unit that only functions on one platform is that it’s harder to deliver scale. Without scale, you can’t reach consumers wherever they are – which creates friction, because that’s what advertisers want.